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Memories etched on a bridge that is slated to fall

If you loved the old Gandy Bridge between Tampa and St. Petersburg — the one they closed to cars and made into a mecca for runners and cyclists and strollers — maybe you get wanting a piece of it.

It makes sense, if you loved the old bridge, that during the nine years it was reborn as the Friendship Trail, hundreds of people shelled out $60 each for a personalized brick to be installed along its rails. Actually, they were 4-by-8-inch tiles that looked like bricks, each etched with a memory or a message.

John K and John R Fishing Buddies

How I love you Chris. You are the best. Love Carl

Van and Jean Brannan 76 wonderful years together

Some list whole families, or the granddaughters of Mimi and Pa. In fact, love was declared and recorded often on those bricks, actual proposals of marriage twice. One was from a man from Scotland, the other a woman doing the asking. To both, the answer was yes.

On those bricks are milestones and moments for which you apparently had to be there:

Fitness and Beauty go a long way

Go Navy. We love you

What is said on the bridge stays on the bridge

And maybe most intriguing of all, a brick that said: Carrie, I'm sorry I broke the window. Mr. Lee.

Whatever it means, Mr. Lee made his amends on that bridge.

Many of the bricks bear the name of someone gone, a mother, a son, grandparents. There's one for someone who died when the Twin Towers fell. Loved and missed, it says.

Maybe people bought those bricks for the comfort of knowing the memory would always be out there, when the sun came up on the water and when fishermen cast their lines under the moon.

Jim, you are still walking beside me. Nancy.

Thousands of us passed those tiles, serious jocks training for marathons on the 2.6-mile stretch, cyclists and power-walkers and others just happy to be high up over the water between two towns, because how often do you get to do that?

Then one day in 2008, we showed up to find the gates padlocked. Our bridge was falling apart, they said, unsafe. Ultimately it would cost too many millions to save it. The old Gandy awaits demolition.

So what about all those memories, those tiles meant to last a lifetime?

"Even now, they look good as new," says Frank Miller, executive director of the Friendship Trail Corp., a group all about saving something worth saving.

At their meeting last month, they came up with a plan. Give what's left from the sale of the tiles to Pinellas County. Request the money be used to help pay to remove them before demolition. Look for a place nearby to install them, and if that doesn't work, announce a day when the people who bought them can come get them and take them home.

The group also officially voted itself a new mission: advocating for recreational trails on existing bridges and pushing for them to be included in plans for new bridges whenever it makes sense — like, say, a bridge that will connect two cities across a bay.

It will be a delicate business, removing those bricks. Some may shatter. But the people who believed in new life for an old bridge hope to keep as many memories as they can.

Here's one for saving: We love this bridge.

For information, e-mail fmiller9@tampabay.rr.com.

Memories etched on a bridge that is slated to fall 08/27/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 27, 2010 10:45pm]
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