Shot of Sixth Street Bridge - photo by Heejae Lee

Shot of Sixth Street Bridge – photo by Heejae Lee

Thanks to the announced closure of the 101 freeway this past weekend, many Angelenos encame aware of a Los Angeles historic landmark…and its impending destruction. The Boyle Heights section of the 101 freeway was shut down so crews could demolish the iconic Sixth Street Bridge, concurrently paving the way for the development of its replacement, the Sixth Street Viaduct project.

Leading into its demolition this weekend, local community, professional design fields, government officials, as well as the media all turned their attention to the history and influence of the 6th Street Bridge upon the greater community. A favorite highlight of the bridge in pop culture is the “8 Greatest Appearances in Movies, Music Videos, and Video Games.”

From a personal perspective the bridge defined my daiy commute. Its appearance signaled my arrival into and departure from Downtown, as well as framing the beauty of the skyline through its steel arched frames. As I’d drive across the bridge I’d look to my right, observing the different water levels of the concrete channel that loomed below. I would chuckle to myself at the sign that read, “Please keep your eyes on the road”.

I am sure there are many individuals who felt a similar sense of attachment to this bridge, with many stories related to passing under and over it through the years. In the process of traveling across its span perhaps we all discovered an understanding about how a bridge can become a part of a community’s identity as a whole, proving that such an attachment is an extension of our city’s culture.

KCET Departures has a small collection of photos in remembrance of the historic Sixth Street Viaduct, including this dramatic photo by by Edwin Beckenbach.

KCET Departures has a small collection of photos in remembrance of the historic Sixth Street Bridge, including this dramatic photo by by Edwin Beckenbach.

Unlike San Francisco, with its iconic Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, our city of Los Angeles isn’t traditionally associated with the bridges connecting its neighborhoods. Yet historically speaking, LA’s bridges have always played a vital role in connecting both communities and resources, as well as contributing to the beautification of the city. Within the 1900s flourished a philosophy known as the “City Beautiful Movement”, an ideology preaching progressive reform in urban city development, a direct response to the diminishing quality of life in overpopulated cities. The movement professed an improvement in urban planning and development wasn’t just desired, but necessary for the health of any modern city. An example was Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of a greater Los Angeles connected by a network of greenways and park systems, all focused upon creating a more beautiful and livable city.

Frederick Law Olmstead, alongside Harland Bartholemew and Charles Henry Cheney drew up this "Major Traffic Street Plan” map in hopes of infusing an aesthetic component to the functional necessity of traffic infrastructure.

Frederick Law Olmstead, alongside Harland Bartholemew and Charles Henry Cheney drew up this “Major Traffic Street Plan” map in hopes of infusing an aesthetic component to the functional necessity of traffic infrastructure.

Photos of the Sixth Street Viaduct a few years after opening in 1932 (left) and the Fourth Street Bridge (right). Photos: USC Libraries Special Collections and Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Special Collections, Young Research Library, UCLA.

Photos of the Sixth Street Viaduct a few years after opening in 1932 (left) and the Fourth Street Bridge (right). Photos: USC Libraries Special Collections and Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Special Collections, Young Research Library, UCLA.

Amongst these beautification projects, around the beginning of 1923, the city of Los Angeles approved a series of bonds that allowed for the construction of ten bridges (you can find a map of these historical bridges collected into a single Google Map). One of these bridges eventually became the Sixth Street Bridge, designed not only to span across the Los Angeles River, but also to add an element of iconic beauty to symbolize and celebrate the city of Los Angeles.  Designed with Art Deco detailing and industrial steel arches, the Sixth Street Bridge quickly took hold within the popular culture of Los Angeles, becoming a recognizable element of the city in relation to its largest waterway, the Los Angeles River and appearing as the backdrop in countless movies, television shows, and magazines photos.

Photo: Heejae Lee

Photo: Heejae Lee

So why are we saying goodbye to the Sixth Street Bridge as we’ve known and loved it for decades? The structural stress of time has affected the concrete bones of the bridge, requiring a new reinforced bridge design be erected, hopefully embodying the rich history of its previous iteration. This new Sixth Street Viaduct project is projected to be completed somewhere in late 2019. I look forward to seeing it during my commute with the idea it may again become a new symbol and iconic memory of Los Angeles for another generation.

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