Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

11/16/2015

The Commission that Shaped the LA River's Bridges

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

We've all heard about the engineer that oversaw the building of many bridges that span the river, but no one ever really hears about the regular citizens that shaped its design. Here's what I've uncovered through lots of archive searching.

~*C
Text by: Carren Jao 
Edited by: Carribean Fragoza
Published: 12 November 2015, KCET

The Fourth Street Bridge over the LA River.
June 16, 1933, Milton Coleman, a boy living in East Los Angeles cut a flower chain extending across the brand new Sixth Street Viaduct. As he did, a police band played, flags fluttered in the wind, and crowds cheered as the ribbon fell to the ground and cars eagerly made their first foray over the 56-feet wide roadway spanning 3,546 feet.

Its graceful concrete arches spanned the Los Angeles River, crossing the railroad tracks of Union Pacific and Santa Fe yards. It contains enough concrete to pave a 40-food wide street. Plans for the bridge began May 1931 and completed a few days before its opening at the cost $2,383,271. A Los Angeles Times writer hailed it as the start of a "new epoch in the development of Los Angeles transportation history."

Though the Sixth Street Viaduct of yore will soon be a thing of memory, it and its sister bridges across the Los Angeles River played a pivotal role in the making of Los Angeles. Built as part of the city's major traffic plan, the bridge was built directly in line with Wilshire Boulevard connecting the downtown business district at the heart of Los Angeles to the oceanside city of Santa Monica down through San Diego. At the time, Los Angeles' traffic plan was meant to ease traffic congestion caused by the tangle of street cars, railroad lines, automobile and horse-drawn traffic. The traffic plan connected streets to existing bridges and developed new bridges. By building these bridges, automobiles would be able to cross the river, while trains could still run along the river's banks. Instead of making do with cheap wooden bridges or rusty, easily manufactured iron truss structures, the city built reinforced concrete arch spans that were architectural marvels of its time.

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 Alkali-Silica Reaction. 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 Alkali-Silica Reaction. I USC Libraries Special Collections

Perhaps most notably, their presence in the city landscape enhanced Los Angeles' beauty and were testaments to this young city's grand ambition to establish itself as an attractive metropolis the likes of its more well-established counterparts on the east coast. Their graceful curves and architectural details (ranging from Neoclassical, Spanish Colonial, Streamline Moderne and Gothic Revival styles) gave the then- millions of people traveling to and from the city by train something to delight in. Many bridges even included concrete benches and balconies where pedestrians could rest and ponder the world while gazing onto the panorama of the city, mountains and what was once an un-concretized river.

Lauded for their beauty, the bridges were intentionally made to inspire civic pride. This aspiration was shepherded by the citizen-driven Los Angeles Municipal Art Commission. "It has been discovered that Los Angeles is not as beautiful a city as natural advantages warrant, and it is proposed to form a commission that will eradicate many of the defects," notes a 1903 Los Angeles Times article. Though the commission was first created to enhance the city's beauty, eventually it would come to play a much more significant role. [read more]

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