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Bridge Saver

Oct 4, 2011
by Kara Pound, '06

Segal helps lead organization that helped save St. Augustine’s historic Bridge of Lions

When Theresa Segal, ‘87, was a little girl, her family would drive down to St. Augustine for a month during the summer to stay at her grandparent’s house on Davis Shores, a historic, waterfront neighborhood just over the Bridge of Lions.

“When we drove over the grating of the bridge, I would wake up and I knew that we were almost there,” Segal remembers.

It’s fitting that Segal’s earliest memories of St. Augustine, the town where she was born, is of the Bridge of Lions, a Mediterranean-style bascule drawbridge opened in 1927. In October 2010, Segal was one of just a few people presented with an Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for advocacy to rehabilitate the bridge. When people were pushing to replace the bridge with a new, larger structure, Segal became instrumental in preserving the quarter-mile span.

In 1996, Segal read a headline in the local paper that the Florida Department of Transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard were lobbying to do away with the iconic bridge and its tile-roofed towers, graceful arches, decorative lampposts, ornate metalwork and two large, marble lions.

“Everyone was just swinging the pendulum back and forth,” she said of a battle that had actually started a few decades earlier. “I knew I needed to get involved.”

So Segal approached a grassroots group already formed that was in dire need of some new blood. They reformed, called themselves the “Save Our Bridge Committee” and named Segal president. “I wasn’t even at the meeting when they appointed me to the position,” she said with a laugh.

Throughout the late ‘90s, Segal and the rest of the Save Our Bridge crew fought to save one of the most distinctive architectural elements of St. Augustine. They petitioned the National Trust for Historic Preservation to include the bridge on their list of the “11 Most Endangered Historic Sites” – giving it federal protection – and won. The group also made multiple trips to Tallahassee to meet with state officials, circulated fact sheets, had residents and supporters sign petitions and held fundraisers at the local St. Augustine Art Association.

On Sept. 2, 1999, the FDOT announced its decision to support rehabilitation.

“It seemed like such a huge mountain to climb,” she said. “And now the real work was going to begin.”

In early 2005, construction started on building a temporary bridge next to the Bridge of Lions, and a year-and-a-half later the real work began on what was a five-year project.

With much fanfare, the newly rehabilitated Bridge of Lions opened to traffic on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2010 – a remarkable coincidence for a bridge that’s been painted green for more than 80 years.

Segal remembers the day of the opening with few words: “Oh, I smiled,” she said. “I smiled a lot.”

Nearly a year later, the marble lions named “Firm” and “Faithful” returned to their home on the foot of the bridge. They had been in storage for more than six years, restored by none other than Segal’s husband, Joe Segal, ‘88, and former Flagler College art professor Enzo Torcoletti.

The only thing that Segal misses about the original bridge is that the new one doesn’t have metal grating. “I really miss hearing that noise when I drive over it.”

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