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'G.I.' Sawyer Dies; Designed Numerous D.C. Bridges, Tunnels

Saturday, September 4, 2004; Page B06

Gerard Ivanhoe "G.I." Sawyer, 94, who designed many of Washington's landmark bridges and tunnels as the District's chief bridge engineer, died Aug. 28 at his D.C. home. He had dementia.

Mr. Sawyer came to Washington in 1941 as an engineer with the D.C. Department of Highways and Traffic, now the D.C. Department of Transportation. From 1941 to 1974, he participated in the design of every bridge built between the District and Virginia. Supervising a staff of 250, he directed or assisted on projects to build the Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and South Capitol Street bridges, a new span of the 14th Street bridge, as well as traffic tunnels at Dupont Circle and Washington Circle in Northwest.


Mr. Sawyer's first project for the District, in the early 1940s, was a small bridge across the Tidal Basin, connecting 15th Street and the George Mason Memorial Bridge in Virginia. He was proudest of his work on the Dupont Circle project in 1948, which included tunnels for auto traffic and streetcars, then still in use in the District.

He also supervised the building of the "Center Leg" tunnel, a six-lane artery that carries Interstate 395 traffic under the Mall at Third Street NW. When it opened in 1973, it was one of the widest tunnels in the world.

Borrowing from historic practice, Mr. Sawyer required the use of stone, rather than the more utilitarian concrete, as the facing for Washington's bridges.

He often battled with the federal Fine Arts Commission, which oversaw the design of highways, bridges and buildings in Washington. In 1967, commission Chairman William Walton derided Mr. Sawyer's design of Three Sisters Bridge upriver from Key Bridge as "an aesthetic disaster." The bridge, originally planned to connect Interstate 66 with the District, was not built.

No large bridge has been constructed in Washington since Mr. Sawyer retired in 1974.

He was born in Lowell, Mass., and graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh in 1936. He was a structural engineer for the city of Pittsburgh until 1940, when he joined Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Co. in Baltimore. He was on the design team of the B-26 Marauder bomber.

Mr. Sawyer was the architect of his family's house in the District, where he lived since 1948. In 1975, he was awarded lifetime membership in the American Society of Civil Engineers for his career achievements. He also served on the board of directors of Sawyer Engineering in Pittsburgh, a company founded by his son.

Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Margaretha Nichol Sawyer of Washington; seven children, Timothy C. Sawyer of Silver Spring, Jonathan F. Sawyer of Boulder, Colo., Mark W. Sawyer of Reading, Pa., Priscilla G. Cornelio of Tucson, Lowell N. Sawyer of Occoquan, Dr. Stephen G. Sawyer of Pittsburgh and Julie A. Krier of Milwaukee; 17 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.


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