The Hope Memorial Bridge — named for Bob Hope’s father, Harry Hope — starts, on the east side, at Progressive Field, the home of Cleveland’s professional baseball team. Four statues adorn it, with eight different Guardians of Traffic, an Art Deco touch that anyone who’s been downtown will immediately recognize.
These statues inspired the “Cleveland Guardians” name, which will replace “Cleveland Indians” as the name for the the city’s perpetually disappointing professional baseball team next season. The name change was announced Friday and on the internet the announcement was met with a mixture of horror and befuddlement, finally coalescing around the conclusion that it is just fine.
I had a similar journey, initially disappointed that the powers-that-be didn’t go with “The Spiders,” after the 19th century Cleveland professional baseball team.
The name change has a bit more import for me — I’ve been a fan of the current Cleveland pro team since going to my first games at old Cleveland Stadium as a child.
We knew back then that the team’s name was problematic, and we knew that the team’s mascot, Chief Wahoo, was straight-up racist; the team seemed to as well, as Chief Wahoo got smaller and smaller on caps and other logo gear over the years. But I also kind of figured that the team would stick with him, merchandise sales and capitalism and inertia and all of that; I was surprised and delighted when they didn’t, putting the writing on the wall for the team name, too.
The decision to change was finally announced in December, with the team saying that it would have a new name in place by 2022 at the earliest; that something new, we now know, is Guardians, as in the Guardians of Traffic, which are visible from Progressive Field. The Guardians are 43-feet tall, made from local sandstone and there to guard traffic on the bridge, which was completed in 1932 and built high to allow for ships to pass beneath.
The eight Guardians all hold different vehicles, which Ohio Outdoor Sculpture identifies as, a “hay wagon, covered wagon, stage coach, passenger car, dump truck, concrete mixer, and two other trucks,” or the range of vehicles in regular use in the early 1930s. The Guardians also appear to be completely made-up figures, as Cleveland Magazine says that Wilbur Watson, the bridge’s engineer, never explained what inspired them, just that they needed to look good.
“Great care was taken to obtain a pleasing architectural creation,” wrote Watson, “demanded by a public that is becoming more and more critical in this regard.”
I have crossed the bridge more times than I can count, and the Guardians never stuck out to me as being anything other than old and cool, though now that the baseball team has been named after them, that will probably make them immortal. Some Guardians to protect the cars that will never die: What more could you want?