St. Johns Bridge

Bridge Stats


Portland’s northernmost bridge is distinguished by both its locale and style. It stands close to the Willamette’s confluence with the mighty Columbia R. at the site of the last remaining ferry crossing in the Portland area (Linnton to St Johns). Its name honors both the community and the settler James Johns, who started the local ferry system with one rowboat in 1852.

With its 1,207-foot span suspended between soaring, seemingly delicate, Gothic arch towers of steel the bridge is quite impressive. It was the longest suspension-type bridge west of the Mississippi River when it was completed in 1931. It was designed by internationally renowned engineer David B. Steinman (1886-1960) and Holton D. Robinson of New York.It is still the only major highway suspension bridge in the Willamette Valley and one of only three in Oregon. The four-lane structure also features Gothic-inspired steel frame piers of reinforced concrete and the longest “pre-stressed” steel cable rope strands designed up to the time of construction.

Steinman also selected the bridge’s color, Verde green, to harmonize with the forest at the west end of the structure. Of the 400 bridges he was to design, Steinman said, “If you asked me which of the bridges I love best, I believe I would say the St. Johns Bridge. I put more of myself into that bridge than any other bridge.”

Contrary to popular belief, San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge is not a Steinman creation (see the Burnside Bridge), but this, his favorite, was featured in a portion of the movie Pay It Forward, starring Helen Hunt & Kevin Spacey.

For more information about the architecture and history of the St. Johns Bridge, visit ODOT’s Historic Bridge Web site.


A dedicated and spirited group of community volunteers, known as the St. Johns Bridge Lighting Committee (SJBLC), has been working to achieve a long sought-after dream of the St. Johns and Linnton neighborhoods — to install permanent accent lighting on the St. Johns Bridge. While the SJBLC is a separate non-profit focusing solely on Portland’s most downstream bridge, Paddy Tillett, Chair of Willamette Light Brigade, has attended many of their meetings in order to liaise between the two groups.

The St. Johns Bridge, considered by many the most graceful and beautiful of all the bridges in the city, and perhaps the entire West Coast, remains in the dark at night, except for a single row of street lights. Committee members successfully applied for a $25,000 Metro grant in 2009 specifically for creating a lighting design. They sent a request for proposals to a select group of lighting design firms around the country.

Interface Engineering, a local firm, worked with nationally acclaimed artist Tad Savinar to create a lighting design that has been accepted by SJBLC. A 3-D model of the St. Johns Bridge was constructed by Interface Engineering and proved invaluable in visualizing the lighting design options.

SJBLC is currently working with Oregon Dept. of Transportation (ODOT), the owner of the bridge, and other agencies to insure the lighting design meets all necessary standards. While ODOT is doing some construction upgrades on the bridge, the SJBLC is working on the fund-raising plan for their lighting endeavor.

For more information about this group’s efforts to light the St. Johns Bridge,
please contact [email protected] (John Burton).