Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Story of Chicago's Bridge to Nowhere.

It was not a mistake made by highway builders, nor was it part of a roadway bridge. This structure was built as a test track for experimental mobile radar units. The bridge segment was located at 6650 West Grand Avenue at Normandy Avenue in Chicago. 

Western Electric built it in 1943 to test and tweak their mobile radar equipment, which was, at the time, cutting-edge technology.

The area around Grand Avenue and Fullerton is the highest point in Chicago, located on a natural ridge. The location was a few blocks from where Thunder Mountain, Chicago's only ski resort, was built in 1967. 

The high elevation, 40 feet above ground level, kept the equipment clear from ground echoes.
Mobile radar units would be driven up a wooden ramp to the track. Airplanes from Glenview Naval Air Station would fly over the track, allowing the radar units to collect data. Later, the Navy would evaluate the data and the equipment's efficiency.

Radar was a new technology in the early 1940s that was crucial to American success in World War II. The track was used throughout WWII, and the Korean War was a big reason for America's military success.
After removing the wooden ramp, the track sat unused for over 40 years because it was too costly to demolish. Finally, in the 1990s, it was razed to build a new strip mall.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. Sometimes, a "bridge to nowhere" is just that. Other times, the bridge leads to SOMEWHERE, yet for whatever reason, we neither see the source or destination at first glance. This is one such circumstance. Other times yet, the bridge did such a good job connecting its distant points that progress has passed it by, leaving the bridge as an "artifact" to confuse future generations.

  2. Do you have a better ID of where this was - an intersection - and the direction we're looking in these two photographs?

  3. Replies
    1. Google the area, it was in the south end of what is now the Menards parking lot.

    2. I think the store is Home Depot rather than Menards.

  4. It was on the north side of Grand Avenue about 2 blocks east of Oak Park Avenue.

  5. We used to pass by on the way to / from my grandparents house. I remember seeing the radar units on top ... didn't know they were mobile units. I think Ridgeland Ave (Oak Park) was named for the natural ridge (Lake Chicago?) although in Chicago we knew it as Narragansett Ave and the great hill in Riss park

  6. They also track the
    carrier landing in the lake for the navy

  7. Edit: There is currently an Applebee's restaurant right where this was once stood. I grew up at Grand and Narragansett. My father served for 2 years in the Korean War and studied radio and TV technology. He told me year's ago there was a direct line to either the White House or the Pentagon from this radar station.

  8. Spent almost all My life on the north side and I never knew it existed!

  9. Thank you for this. One of my uncles was under the impression (or so I understood it at as a child) that the entire structure was a radar antenna. When I later learned more about radio and radar, this explanation became something of a puzzlement. A test bed for mobile units makes much more sense.

  10. See patent for "Apparatus for calibrating radar units"


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