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L.A.'s Iconic Bridge to Become Just a Memory

The fate of the historic Sixth Street Viaduct has crumbled.

While Angelenos know it by name, the design of the bridge is in the pop-culture subconscious due to its many appearances in film, television, commercials and music videos. The image of a downtown skyline seen from the broad sweep across the Los Angeles River, interrupted with a distinct curve near the double steel arches, is burned in as a visual point of reference even if many outside Southern California do not know its location.

Last November, the L.A. City Council certified a report calling for the bridge to be replaced. Recommendations lean toward a wider and realigned cable-stayed suspension bridge with a modern design.

In the last five years, there has been a debate whether to restore the bridge, replicate architectural details on a new structure, or create a new landmark design - a discussion that began when an engineering study confirmed the bridge was deteriorating from a condition known as Alkali-Silica Reaction, "despite many efforts to arrest or limit its effect."

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While further studies were held, community input was sought over the last five years. There was a clear dividing line between those who hoped to save the 1932 monument and others who want a new structure that would become a visual icon with no ties to the surrounding early 20th-century structures.

With an urgency to move forward, the final design will fall somewhere in the functional middle that answers to time and budget instead of aesthetics and history.

Still, as recently as last month, during an update at a Los Angeles River Artist and Business Association meeting, Chief Deputy City Engineer Deborah Weintraub, an architect by trade, indicated that a design with cable spans and civilized curve was still conceptual, and an RFP for engineers for new designs will be sent out.

So there will still be some lobbying as to what direction the bridge design will take - a fight that will reveal how people interpret their city.

There are those who came to Los Angeles to progress their lives and career, and they would prefer the new bridge to be state of the art gateway to a gleeming futuristic city. For them, it is an entrance.

And for those whose cultural center comes from within the city, the bridges, especially the Sixth Street Viaduct, are not an entry point to the Los Angeles mystic. They are geographical and historic centerpieces of a larger city, otherwise faceless in pop culture fiction.

Sixth Street Viaduct from the east side of the Los Angeles River. Construction to replace the decaying bridge is expected to begin in late 2014 I Photo by Sterling Davis


Sixth Street Viaduct a few years after opening in 1932. Bridges linked residential growth that expanded beyond the east side of the Los Angeles River I USC Libraries Special Collections


40- foot high monumental pylons with fluted and zig-zag design are located on both approaches to the Sixth Street Bridge, says historic documents from the City of LA. It was the first bridge in Los Angeles to incorporate Moderne and Art Deco design elements, influencing future bridge design in Los Angeles I Courtesy of USC Libraries Special Collections

Two pylons were once next to the two 150-foot wide, asymmetrical steel through-arch spans. A few years after opening, they were removed when it was first learned the bridge's concrete was suffering from ASR I USC Libraries Special Collections


Sixth Street bridge steel arches from the west side of the viaduct in January 2012 I Photo by Ed Fuentes


The street alongside the bridge demonstrated why it has an appeal to filmmakers looking for grace and grit in one shot I Photo by Ed Fuentes

Arches during a December 2012 sunset taken from a railyard just east of the Los Angeles River I Photo by Ed Fuentes

While addressing the transportation needs of the growing metropolis in the early 20th century, these bridges also embodied the values of the City Beautiful Movement through buildings, structures, and infrastructure, states a background report by City Planning I Photo by Edwin Beckenbach

Top photo: 6th Street Bridge from Olympic. It has the longest span of any of the bridges crossing the Los Angeles River near downtown Los Angeles I Photo by Sterling Davis

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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Beautifully written article Ed! I for one will be one of those fighting to keep my city's history

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what a sweet memory it will be... http://vimeo.com/28945587