Artbound

Artbound

Start watching
Fine Cut

Fine Cut

Start watching
SoCal Wanderer

SoCal Wanderer

Start watching
a large damn with graffiti of a woman with a hammer on it, mountains in the background

Earth Focus Presents

Start watching
Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Professor T

Professor T (Belgium)

Start watching
Emma

Emma

Start watching
Guilt

Guilt

Start watching
Line of Separation Key Art.

Line of Separation

Start watching
Us

Us

Start watching
The Latino Experience

The Latino Experience

Start watching
Key Art of "Summer of Rockets" featuring Keeley Hawes and Toby Stephens.

Summer of Rockets

Start watching
Death in Paradise Series 10

Death in Paradise

Start watching
millionaire still

KCET Must See Movies

Start watching
Independent Lens

Independent Lens

Start watching
Tending Nature
New Special Airing Nov. 14

Tending Nature

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Discover all the ways you can make a difference.
Support Icon
The Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams are here to help.

Colorado Street Bridge: The Birth of a Pasadena Landmark

Colorado Street Bridge
Support Provided By

Pasadena's Colorado Street Bridge, which turns 100 this December 13, bears more than a passing resemblance to an ancient Roman aqueduct. In a way, that makes sense. Both use the same engineering solution – colossal arches – to create an artificial topography and overcome the natural contours of the land.

In Pasadena's case, those contours are the consequence of the Arroyo Seco, a seasonal watercourse that flows through a deep ravine from the base of the San Gabriel Mountains to its confluence with the Los Angeles River. Pasadena's historic core sits atop an elevated mesa that, to the west, drops suddenly into the arroyo. To get from Pasadena to Highland Park, Garvanza, and other westward settlements, travelers faced two obstacles: the stream of the Arroyo Seco itself, and its ravine.

The earliest bridge in the area – J.W. Scoville's wooden trestle span, built in the late 1880s – overcame only the first obstacle. Travelers still had to descend into the ravine, cross the bridge, and then climb the opposite bank – a true hardship for horse-drawn vehicles, but an almost insurmountable one for the early automobiles that began using the bridge around the turn of the 20th century. So when Pasadena resolved to build a new bridge that would extend Colorado Street over the Arroyo Seco, it commissioned a structure that would cross the ravine at street level.

Based on a design by engineer Joseph Alexander Low Waddell with modifications by builder John Drake Mercereau, the Colorado Street Bridge spans 1,467½ feet with the aid of 11 arches. At its tallest, the reinforced-concrete structure soars nearly 150 feet above the streambed.

Upon its completion it was hailed as the longest and tallest bridge in Southern California. But what makes the structure's scale even more impressive are two charming quirks: a 52-degree curve in the bridge's center, and a constant 2.65 percent grade – a result of the fact that the east bank is 30 feet higher than the west.

Construction began in July 1912 and lasted 18 months, employing 40 to 100 workers on any given day. Built with 11,000 cubic yards of concrete – made from gravel collected from the arroyo – and 600 tons of steel reinforcement, the bridge cost a total of $235,000.

In later years, the bridge carried the fabled Route 66 over the arroyo and transformed Colorado Street into Pasadena's main commercial corridor. To accommodate the increased auto traffic, the city widened Colorado by 28 feet between 1929 and 1930, slicing off the facades of old buildings. In 1958, it promoted Colorado Street to the status of boulevard.

But such change was still decades off when, on December 13, 1913, Pasadena residents climbed into their automobiles – specially decorated for the occasion – and paraded across the span, celebrating the creation of their city's most enduring visual landmark.

The Scoville Bridge, seen here in 1889, traversed the stream of the Arroyo Seco but still required travelers to descend into the ravine and then climb the opposite bank after crossing. Courtesy of the Pasadena Museum of History.
The Scoville Bridge, seen here in 1889, traversed the stream of the Arroyo Seco but still required travelers to descend into the ravine and then climb the opposite bank after crossing. Courtesy of the Pasadena Museum of History.
The Colorado Street Bridge under construction in 1913. Courtesy of the Harrington & Cortelyou, Inc. Consulting Engineers Collection, Pasadena Public Library.
The Colorado Street Bridge under construction in 1913. Courtesy of the Harrington & Cortelyou, Inc. Consulting Engineers Collection, Pasadena Public Library.
The Colorado Street Bridge under construction in 1913. Courtesy of the Harrington & Cortelyou, Inc. Consulting Engineers Collection, Pasadena Public Library.
The Colorado Street Bridge under construction in 1913. Courtesy of the Harrington & Cortelyou, Inc. Consulting Engineers Collection, Pasadena Public Library.
A view of the Scoville Bridge next to the partially completed Colorado Street Bridge. Courtesy of the Pasadena Museum of History.
A view of the Scoville Bridge next to the partially completed Colorado Street Bridge. Courtesy of the Pasadena Museum of History.
The Colorado Street Bride: Pasadena's answer to the Rome's aqueducts. Colorized, ca. 1915 photo courtesy of the Pasadena Public Library.
The Colorado Street Bride: Pasadena's answer to the Rome's aqueducts. Colorized, ca. 1915 photo courtesy of the Pasadena Public Library.
An electric car crosses the Colorado Street Bridge in 1930. Courtesy of the Pasadena Museum of History.
An electric car crosses the Colorado Street Bridge in 1930. Courtesy of the Pasadena Museum of History.
Countless photographers and postcard makers have turned their cameras toward the Colorado Street Bridge. Courtesy of the Frasher Foto Postcard Collection, Pomona Public Library.
Countless photographers and postcard makers have turned their cameras toward the Colorado Street Bridge. Courtesy of the Frasher Foto Postcard Collection, Pomona Public Library.
Dozens of people have leapt to their deaths from the bridge, known by some as 'Suicide Bridge.' Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
Dozens of people have leapt to their deaths from the bridge, known by some as 'Suicide Bridge.' Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
A 1951 artist's rendering of a new freeway span next to the original Colorado Street Bridge. Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive.
As plans for a new, wider highway bridge, shown here under construction in 1953, were being finalized, the fate of the Colorado Street Bridge was uncertain. Pasadena eventually elected to keep it. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Los Angeles Examiner Collection.
The Colorado Street Bridge was closed from 1989 to 1993 for a $27 million seismic retrofitting project. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.
A 1951 artist's rendering of a new freeway span next to the original Colorado Street Bridge. Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive.

Support Provided By
Read More
 A map of Los Angeles City, 1867.

The Convoluted Logic of L.A.'s Numbered Avenues

As Los Angeles expanded, a need to clear up confusion for citizens came when duplicate numbered streets and avenues appeared throughout the city.
A mountain range, parts of which are covered in snow.

The Lost Plan to Create a National Park in L.A.’s Backyard

In 1916, the proposed establishment of the Sierra Madre National Park laid in the hands of conservationist Stephen Mather. But an underfunded national park system and the area's lack of "nationally significant" monumental scenery meant a swift end to the plan.
A view of the iconic landmark, the Bradbury Building, showing dark, ornamental grilling and brickwork and layers of stairs.

The Savvy Mexican Businesswoman Behind the Iconic Bradbury Building

While the building’s namesake Lewis Bradbury is often referenced in historical accounts, his wife Simona is rarely mentioned alongside him even though she oversaw his business affairs after his death, including the completion of the iconic Bradbury Building.