Perhaps the “Dirty Harry” bridge is the most conspicuous example of a railroad feature recently removed and replaced with a new structure notably absent of any reference to the railroad trestle it supplanted. The trestle was so named because it was featured in the 1971 movie Dirty Harry. It was where the movie hero, police inspector Dirty Harry Callahan played by Clint Eastwood, jumped from the trestle onto the top of a moving school bus. The movie has the school bus taken over by a psychopath fashioned after the Zodiac Killer. Happily, the bus and the children on board are eventually rescued by “Dirty Harry” at Larkspur’s Hutchinson Quarry.
But the trestle’s real story and its value to Marin history is the part it played serving the mainline of the Northwest Pacific Railroad (NWP). The trestle, located at milepost 14.61 on the NWP, was a segment of the north approach to the bridge spanning the Corte Madera Creek. The 489.6-foot north segment along with the south trestle approach and the Bascule Bridge, combined to form a one-third mile long span over the marsh and creek. Because in the early 20th century the Corte Madera Creek was a navigable waterway all the way to Kentfield, the bridge was required to be opened on demand to allow marine traffic to pass.
From 1914 until 1941 all of the NWP passenger service from Eureka to Sausalito and much of the local electric interurban trains passed over the trestle---in all, as many as 16 steam and 14 electric passenger trains per day. The bridge also carried the many daily freight trains to and from Tiburon where the cars were loaded onto ferries or barges for transfer to San Francisco.
Originally constructed in 1884, the trestle was rebuilt in 1923 and removed in 2003 amidst considerable controversy. While the City of Larkspur favored its removal in order to widen East Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, many in the community supported retaining it. Then County Supervisor John Kress pointed to studies showing the street could be widened without removing the trestle.
Despite his concern, in 2001 the Board of Supervisors voted to approve removal of the trestle on a four to one vote with Kress dissenting. Kress summarized his view as follows: “Here is a visible reminder of our past, and we basically agreed to give it up without compensation based on an unverified assertion that the trestle is a worthless piece of junk.”
The issue of the trestle removal was brought to a head in June 2003 when the bridge was damaged by a tractor trailer carrying a mounted crane. The crane was a load too high to pass under the structure. It struck and damaged the main beam on a section of the wooden trestle. The City of Larkspur declared the damaged bridge a hazard to public safety, determined it could not be repaired, and ordered it removed. Removal of 100 feet of the trestle was completed in August 2003 despite significant protests by bicyclists and others.
The replacement for the trestle is an upscale bicycle and pedestrian bridge that cost $13 million. The contemporary, unadorned steel bridge is notable for its long unsupported center span as well as a lack of any reference to the site’s railroad heritage.