The beauty of the Los Angeles River through downtown derives not from its natural wonders, but from its urban ones. This walk features four of the more than a dozen prominent historic bridges dating from 1910 to 1932. These bridges are monuments to civic pride, featuring graceful arches and a variety of intricate ornamental details, all demonstrating that public infrastructure can be lasting, beautiful, and functional.
Please note that this walk is best enjoyed on weekends, when the weekday truck traffic is absent from this industrial area.
First Street Bridge stairs, First Street and Santa Fe Avenue. Downtown, Los Angeles.
DIRECTIONS TO START
BIKE: No river bike path exists in this section of the L.A. River. You can take your bicycle on the Metro Red Line or Gold Line, Amtrak, or Metrolink, and disembark at Union Station. Follow transit directions below.
TRANSIT: Take the Metro Red Line or Gold Line, Amtrak, or Metrolink to Union Station. From there, it's a 0.6-mile walk through a very industrial area. Go to the east end of the station by following signs TO BUSES or to Patsaouras Transit Plaza (also known as Gateway Plaza). When you get to the large lobby, go upstairs to the bus area. Walk east through the transit plaza and continue east down the exit ramp to cross Vignes Street. Proceed east on Ramirez Street, which turns right and crosses below the 101 Freeway, where it becomes Center Street. Continue south on Center. At Banning Street (a block before the already visible First Street Bridge), take Santa Fe Avenue, which splits off to the right. Take the stairs located on the south side of the bridge.
CAR: Exit the 101 Freeway at Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles and go south on Alameda. Turn left on First Street. Just before the bridge, at the intersection of First and Vignes Street, turn left, then immediately turn right onto the First Street frontage road, directly north of the bridge. Turn right on Santa Fe Avenue and cross under the bridge. Street parking is available on Santa Fe.
Ascend the stairs to the deck of the First Street Bridge, turn right, and walk east over the L.A. River.
This bridge, completed in 1929, was designed by Merrill Butler, the person most responsible for L.A.'s historic bridges. The bridge bears a bronze plaque with a dedication to the memory of Henry G. Parker, who was an assistant city engineer in charge of bridge building. In 1909, at age 40, he drowned while supervising repairs to flood gates of the city's outfall sewer near Redondo Beach.
Looking downstream, to your right, is an excellent view of the Fourth Street Bridge. In 1931, this bridge replaced the last remaining wooden bridge downtown. It features gothic-style detailing. Note that these historic downtown bridges were designed to be seen from many vantage points.
Ornate railing, lighting, columns, and overlook areas are seen up-close by pedestrians and other surface traffic. Graceful arches below provide appeal for those at a distance, including train passengers.
At the ends of nearly all the bridges are bronze plaques commemorating the completion of the bridge and the names of elected officials and lead city staff responsible for their construction. Note the plaque across the street on your left as you approach Mission Road.
Turn right onto Mission and walk south through this industrial area. Directly ahead you will see the Fourth Street Bridge, now with a closer view of the gothic motif in its railing.
Unlike the other downtown bridges with concrete arches, the Sixth Street Bridge built in 1932 used two riveted steel arches. At 3600 feet long, it was the longest concrete bridge in California in its day. Recently the bridge was demolished to make way for a new one to be completed in 2019.
At the comer of Mission and Jesse Street, to your right is the Seventh Street Bridge, originally built in 1910 as a nearly at-grade trolley bridge. In 1927, under the guidance of Merrill Butler, a new bridge was constructed as an additional layer atop the existing bridge. This stacking is easiest to see from this side view.
Turn left at Jesse, where you get a good view of the large pylons at the east end of the Sixth Street Bridge. Take the first right, unmarked, at Meyers Street.
Turn right onto Seventh Street and note the antique plaque on your right. Ascend the bridge. From the central bridge deck, to your right, are good views of the Sixth Street Bridge. Descend to Santa Fe Avenue.
At 710 Santa Fe Avenue, visible to your left from the comer of Santa Fe and Sixth, is a modest old fire station. Engine Company No.17 is no longer in public service, but this pleasant building is another good example of lasting aesthetic public infrastructure.
Turn right onto Santa Fe and walk north, again viewing and passing below the Sixth Street Bridge.
Continue north. Near Santa Fe and Palmetto Street, you'll find more good views: looking back at the Sixth Street Bridge and ahead at the Fourth Street Bridge.
Santa Fe veers left. Go under the initial spur of the Y-shaped Fourth Street Bridge. On your right, just before you go under the main stem of the bridge, ascend the stairway. Check out the gothic ornamentation up close, as well as the little-used pedestrian seating areas atop the bridge. If you have time, walk out over the river and see the elaborate porticos, and even more views of the Sixth Street Bridge. Walk back and descend the stairs.
Continue north on Santa Fe and walk under the main stem of the Fourth Street Bridge. On your left is a quarter-mile-long former freight depot that now serves as the campus of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). The freight depot building was constructed in
1907 and is one of the earliest local examples of reinforced concrete buildings. SCI-Arc is one of L.A.'s premiere architecture schools and is an ally in the task of re-envisioning the Los Angeles River. Continue north to the starting point.
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