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

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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."

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

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