As the sun lingered into the space between the arches of the 6th Street Viaduct and then dipped below the city skyline on Wednesday, everyone on the bridge turned to watch them go, no matter which direction they went.
It was a perfectly cool summer night and they were watching the sunset from the only spot in town worth watching.
It’s Bridge Summer in Los Angeles, and as the sun goes down the young structure’s rhythm picks up — the dog walkers and juice drinkers give way to partygoers and beer drinkers, all eager to find out what it is that draws everyone to the spot .
“In the totality of things, it’s just a road that crosses another road and takes you from one thing to another,” said William Gillard, 79, a longtime downtown resident, shaking his head and looking down from a dusty hilltop at the Bridge down Boyle Heights side. “But if you grew up here, it’s a part of you. It is our bridge.”
Gillard lived at the Cecil Hotel for 34 years and loved the old 6th Street Viaduct. He took photos as they tore it down, and then more as they built his replacement.
“It’s property. It is our bridge because it connected the two sides. People walked over it constantly for generations. Kids would come here and it would be an outing,” he said.
The bridge has gone from physical structure to phenomenon. The $588 million concrete mass has become the beating heart of Los Angeles in the past two weeks, a place that tourists and Angelenos alike must see and experience.
The antics escalated to such extremes – from drag races and cars making donuts in the street to a man giving a midspan haircut – that the cops cut the artery connecting downtown to East LA on four of the last six suspended nights.
The energy on Wednesday night’s reopened bridge was festive but relaxed, framed by a bright orange sunset giving way to a veil of blue.
People left their cars for photo ops under the bridge next to the Ministry of Water and Power. A cat named Dorothy was walking on a leash and in a sweater. A woman stripped down to a bathing suit for a photo and then quickly got dressed. Two dozen cyclists were riding in the middle of the road toward downtown. Families returning to Boyle Heights from dinner strolled past. Drones firing at the scene buzzed overhead, below police helicopters. A couple of photographers from the design firm that worked on the construction snapped photos of people using the bridge “respectfully.”
All the while, like the revelers on the viaduct, LAPD SUVs were slowly patrolling back and forth from downtown to Boyle Heights to the rhythm of the drums being played under the bridge.
“I connect with something — the stars, the elements, the music gods, the drums from Africa,” said 54-year-old Army veteran and amateur drummer Jeff Jackson, who lives in an apartment overlooking Skid Row.
The high beams of his Chevrolet Trailblazer shone on the bridge, where passers-by looked down at the man and his drum kit as he hopped to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” Others walked right past without stopping.
“I don’t like the audience part because then you lose the intention. If they like it, cool, but it’s more about your own experience. … I don’t need attention. I just want to play for bridge,” Jackson said.
The 6th Street Viaduct completed Los Angeles, Jackson said. When you drive it up, when you come down Whittier Boulevard, the city opens up and tells you you’ve arrived, he said.
“This bridge makes a statement like ‘Welcome to LA,'” he said.
Jackson wasn’t the only person persuaded to play music on the new bridge. Earlier Wednesday, as the sun was rising, Geovany Taleon, 34, walked across the span and played his alto sax.
He played “Stand By Me” as he marched toward downtown.
“Everyone gets a second and first chance,” said the self-confessed former drug user, who dreams of getting clean and becoming a musician like his family members in Guatemala, where he’s from. He bought his first saxophone from a friend on a $300 loan.
“For me, this is my second chance,” he said.
On the Boyle Heights side, DJ Robby Dinero put on tracks with headphones on.
“It’s a fresh start. I just want to be a part of it,” the 33-year-old Inglewood resident said while producing an R&B beat. “The bridge is inspiring. It’s something completely new and part of our culture. I listen to the cars while they drive.”
For others, the viaduct is a place in the neighborhood, a place to take kids at the end of a long day.
“Previously, there wasn’t much interest from the city in putting anything in Boyle Heights,” said Joanna G., a longtime neighborhood resident, as she escorted her son across the bridge. “It’s great. It’s different, but I don’t like the way some people are acting right now and how they’re handling the bridge.”
Blair Martin, a 33-year-old construction worker, agreed.
“We have to learn to treat our toys well,” Martin said after posing for photos on the partition. “But it’s also LA, what do we do, let it be pretty?”
As night fell, small groups drinking beer and smoking weed scattered along the viaduct. Firecrackers were going off somewhere in Boyle Heights.
Steven Ramirez and his cousins sat on the concrete guardrail between the bike lane and pedestrian lane, enjoying the view of downtown glittering behind the lighted arches.
The group headed to the bridge to enjoy some modelos and kick back at the city’s newest attraction.
They were slowly sipping around 10 p.m. on the north side of the bridge, oblivious to the world. It was their second stop after killing some Coronas in Elysian Park.
“Personally, I’ve drank in front of the police before, they don’t care,” Ramirez said. “The cops don’t care about us. It’s the people who burn rubber. The people who make donuts. The people walking up the arches.
“We enjoy views like this in LA. It’s like an amusement park here, everyone’s going back and forth,” he said.
“It’s the best thing LA has to offer,” added his cousin happily.
“We’re just chilling, not doing anything bad,” Ramirez said again.
Ramirez — in a Nike palm tree shirt and with a palm tree tattoo on the back of his neck — was so confident he was doing nothing wrong that he didn’t immediately believe the LAPD cruiser, which had stopped about 100 feet away, was coming his way. Two officers got out and holstered their night sticks.
“They’re not coming for us,” Ramirez said, sipping his beer.
His cousin put some unopened fashionos in a backpack. The cops came closer.
“They could get us,” Ramirez admitted.
The policemen shone flashlights in the men’s faces.
“You’ve been drinking?” asked one.
The men tried to deny it, but the empty fashionos on the railing gave them away. The police offered them to leave the bridge instead of getting a ticket.
When one of his cousins picked up the empty cans, Ramirez tried to take his open modelo with him. When he didn’t pour the beer immediately, one of the two officers grabbed him and pulled his arms behind his back while Ramirez yelled at the officer to let him go.
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” Ramirez said.
“Think about your kids,” Ramirez said after the officer twisted his arm to pour out the rest of the beer.
“I have no children,” the officer replied.
The police officer eventually released Ramirez. who was taken to Boyle Heights by his cousins. They restrained him as he continued to yell obscenities at the police officers. The officer threatened Ramirez with a night in jail if he continued to talk.
The minute-long interruption disturbed the otherwise quiet night. The crowd thinned as Jackson continued to bang his drums.
“It’s really beautiful and quite peaceful,” said Shanelle Oquinn, who lives in East LA. “We haven’t had anything new in a long time and everyone is used to the places we have. When you finally have something new, everyone is attracted to it.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-28/6th-street-viaduct-night ‘It’s our bridge’: A night of selfies, Modelos, cops, dogs and a cat on the 6th Street Viaduct