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Raising Awareness for L.A. River Bridges

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, April 03, 2008, at 04:39PM
6th Street Viaduct Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Looking north at the bridges of the L.A. River. The Sixth Street Viaduct is in the foreground.

The Los Angeles Conservancy hopes to raise awareness of the historic bridges over the L.A. River with a pair of events to be held next week. "Spanning History," co-sponsored by the Getty Conservation Institute and the Friends of the Los Angeles River, kicks off on Thursday, April 10th, with a panel discussion at the Getty Museum. The Downtown fun is on Sunday, April 13th, when the Conservancy hosts Bridge Mix, a tour and activity day visiting four of the Downtown spans.

This week I asked Trudi Sandmeier, the Conservancy's Director of Education, a few questions about these great old structures. She replied, with mentions of "bridge petting" and early adaptive reuse.

ERIC RICHARDSON: Sitting in a meeting about the 6th street bridge last year, I was struck by how these bridges are not just architectural works of their own, but really a testament to the great work of the City's Bureau of Engineering. We seldom see this kind of public-sector work done today.

TRUDI SANDMEIER: Twenty-seven bridges now span the Los Angeles River between the San Fernando Valley and Long Beach, although this number is far greater if you include bridges over the river's tributaries. The fourteen historic spans within the City of Los Angeles were constructed as part of a vast bridge building initiative between 1909 and 1938. Through the innovative use of the reinforced concrete arch, bridge builders harmonized architectural beauty and structural integrity, creating lasting structures that both unified the city and created pride in its public works. The early bridges reflected the nationwide City Beautiful Movement of the time, which sought to beautify urban centers and improve the character, morale, and civic virtues of residents through monumental architecture and urban planning. While these early bridges were designed primarily in the Beaux-Arts style, later bridges reflected the fashionable architectural styles of their period, including Spanish Baroque, Gothic Revival, Art Deco, and Streamline Moderne.

Ultimately, they don't make 'em like this anymore...

ER: It seems a shame that too often people only encounter the bridges from their vehicles. It's a whole different experience standing out on one of the spans as either a pedestrian or as a cyclist. What can we do to encourage that non-auto approach?

TS: The Bridge Mix is designed to encourage people to walk or ride across the spans that day, but in our printed booklet and kid's guide, we also encourage "bridge petting" - that is, getting up close and personal to see the amazing details that make each of these spans so unique and special.

ER: What's something that you think too few people know about the river bridges?

TS: Which bridge is an early example of adaptive reuse? The 7th Street Viaduct, but to learn why, you'll have to come to the Bridge Mix! Also, not featured that day but included in the booklet is the amazing bas relief terra cotta on the Washington Blvd. bridge which illustrates the process of bridge building. Super cool.

More information about Spanning History is on the Conservancy's website.


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