From a turtle and a skunk and a dog to a heart surgeon and a Cub Scout and a pirate, there was no shortage of “firsts” to cross the new Lantana Bridge on Saturday.
A first Green Bay Packers fan, a first surfing piñata and a first Santa joined a first bicyclist, a first backwards walker and a first three-generations-of-a family in a parade of 1,000 marchers who celebrated the opening of the bridge by – how else? — being the first to cross it.
Leading the parade were the first of all the firsts – 77-year-old Rowland Wood and 7-year-old Ramon Torres III, a Cub Scout, who both held a flag as they led the procession to cheers from 1,500 people watching.
Back in 1950, Wood was the first to cross the bridge when he carried a flag while leading a group of Boy Scouts to mark the first opening.
“It was just a few people then,’’ Wood said of the small celebration in 1950. He looked at the mob of revelers on the bridge and said, “This is phenomenal. Where did all these people come from?’’
Saturday’s celebration ended with a fireworks display. It started with a crowd gathering as county workers Noel Billaro and Ruben Guebara were putting the final touches on the bridge by tightening the remaining bolts on the south hand railing at the east end.
Lantana Mayor David Stewart smiled at Torres and said: “I am counting on you to live 75 more years. You’ve got to continue the tradition.’’
Torres just stared back, oblivious to Stewart’s reference to the expected life span of the new $32 million bridge, which built by Palm Beach County and finished on time.
Stewart said the 1950 bridge replaced an old wooden bridge that went up in the 1920s. “The bridgetender had to go out with a crank and crank the (old wood) bridge until it swung open,’’ Stewart said.
Stewart said a relative of that 1920s bridgetender is Mark Easton, publisher of the Lake Worth Herald, who participated in Saturday’s parade.
The 1950 bridge had a 50-year life span but lasted 62 years until March 2012. Stewart said the town had an option of building a temporary bridge, but decided not to because it would have added $18 million to the project’s cost and three more years to its length.
“(Engineers) said the problem with temporary bridge is, if you start pounding pilings around your old structure, sometimes they settle and you still can’t use (the temporary bridge). The same problems they’re having up there,” he said, referring to the Flagler Memorial Bridge that connects West Palm Beach to the town of Palm Beach.
In the first week or two after the Lantana Bridge project started in 2012, Stewart said, residents complained about having to cross the Intracoastal via the Lake Worth Bridge to the north or the Ocean Avenue Bridge in Boynton Beach to the south.
“I told them to suck it up,’’ Stewart said with a laugh. “It’s only 20 months.’’