The latest piece of history to come to the Museum Reach is a 20th century iron bridge originally constructed to convey beer across the Pearl Brewery.
The 17.5-ton bridge did the heavy lifting at the Pearl Brewery starting back in the 1970s.
“It used to be what we called the conveyor bridge," said Allen Sikes with Silver Ventures. Sikes is supervising the installation of the old bridge between the amphitheater and what will soon be Hotel Emma. "And it was basically a bridge that went across the entire site that took the bottled and canned beer over to the Full Goods Warehouse, where it was palletized and shipped out.”
Sikes said the salvaged bridge hung on the front of the main brewhouse until just a few years ago, when the Pearl removed it to showcase the building’s ornate façade.
The entire conveyer system was much longer, built in sections, and this bridge is the longest piece, spanning 86 ft. across the river.
“It’s a pretty standard truss bridge. It’s just a fully utilitarian design," Sikes said. "The total weight of the flying bridge was 35,000 lbs."
Getting the bridge to its new resting spot on the river was no small task. First, a house mover was called in to move the bridge from the brewhouse to a vacant lot on the other side of the river.
Then, on July 29, the bridge was set in place thanks to some skillful “flying” by the crane operator. The job was difficult not just because of its weight, but workers also had to protect a very large, very old pecan tree that provides valuable shade along the river.
"We hoisted it into place with a 450-ton hydraulic mobile crane, which took approximately 13 hours total install time due to the very tight constraints of the attachment details," Sikes said.
Yviand Sarbones with the San Antonio River Authority said project managers from the Pearl met with them several times to figure out the best way to keep the tree while getting the best location for the bridge.
“The tree was pruned in the best way to minimize the damage while still allowing the placement of the bridge," Sarbones said.
Sikes said just one branch was removed, and now, the tree gracefully bends over the old bridge where it’s destined to drop pecans for passersby in the years to come.
In addition to the bridge sections, Sikes said Pearl has been adding pieces of the old roller conveyor system here and there to pull together the brewery’s history.
“Well, for example, the conveyors that used to be on this bridge, we have a conference table made out of some. Local Coffee has some of them in their space. Bike World has some in their space,” Sikes said.
The bridge provides greater accessibility for this section of the river, with a concrete walkway from Myrtle Street and an elevator on the Pearl side. It provides connectivity to the Tobin Hill neighborhood west of the river and offers another crossover for people enjoying a walk or run on the river trails.
“We weren’t sure how impactful it would be, but now that it’s set, we feel really good about it," Sikes said. "We really like how it fits with the industrial nature with everything else that’s going on. It creates a nice focal point coming from this side of the river. I mean, you come across and you’re staring right at the smokestack."
The new pedestrian bridge is scheduled to open in September.