Lions return to guard bridge

The white marble lions returned to their rightful place at the base of the Bridge of Lions early Tuesday morning after spending more than six years away in storage.

The Bridge of Lions closed from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. early Tuesday morning as city officials, St. Augustine police and construction workers placed the large lions at the edges of the bridge.

“We purposely picked this time because its when the least amount of people will be affected,” said Jim Piggott, director of general services with the city of St. Augustine. “This will be the first time I’ll get to see the lions in place since I started working for the city. This is a big night.”

The lions made a grand entrance down King Street on the back of a large  truck while being escorted by police patrol cars. Their sirens could be heard across town as they made their way to the bridge on an otherwise quiet and deserted night.

A large crane and a team of less than 10 workers were able to lift each lion and carefully place them on each side of the Bridge of Lions. The entire procedure took a little more than two hours.

Mayor Joe Boles and his family, Vice Mayor Errol Jones and City Manager John Regan took photos together in front of the first lion that was placed on the right side closest to the St. Augustine Municipal Marina. They each wrote a short note and placed a coin or dollar bill under the platform of the lion for good luck before it was secured at the base of the bridge.

A dozen or so others watched from behind police tape at first, then crept closer as the lions were lifted into the air by crane and cautiously placed down on the bridge.

One lane of the bridge remained open while public works officials worked to fix a small dip in the road that officials discovered Monday afternoon, said public works director, Martha Graham. Workers found an abandoned water pipe at the base of the bridge that caused a minor dip in the road, she said.
Public works officials cut the pipe and replaced the road with new asphalt around 2 a.m., before the lions arrived.

The lions are named “Firm” and “Faithful,” said spokesman for the city, Paul Williamson.
“The names are also on the World War I flag monument across the street,” he said.
Plans for an event to formally celebrate the return of the lions is still in it’s planning stages, Williamson said.
“We’re going to wait until the rest of the beautification of the bridge is completed,” he said. “This could be months away, but we want to have all of the landscaping done first.”

For more about the lions' return, read tomorrow's edition of the St. Augustine Record.

By Justine Griffin, St. Augustine Record, March 15, 2011

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