The new 6th Street Viaduct traverses more industry than water, spanning a rundown apartment with lofts, warehouses and railroad tracks. It doesn’t soar over the East River or gild the windswept entrance to San Francisco Bay.
But the $588 million bridge, which opens this weekend, is designed as a Los Angeles monument in its own right, an iconic place to gather and celebrate the city.
With 10 pairs of inclined arches, it is the largest and most expensive bridge the city has ever built. It connects downtown to Whittier Boulevard, the heart of the historic Eastside, replacing a popular Depression-era bridge that was demolished in 2016 and fell into disrepair.
“It’s our generation’s love letter to the city,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, standing on the bridge Friday morning, gray as the sea layer that hung over downtown skyscrapers.
While the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge are landmarks of their cities, the subtle beauty of the Art Deco bridges that span the Los Angeles River have always attracted more local niche attention. They are commonly used in Hollywood movie props, photo shoots, and car commercials, as is the LA River’s concrete canal that they cross. The badly-decayed former 6th Street Viaduct made memorable appearances in Grease, Terminator 2, and Repo Man, but never symbolized the city in the same way that the Hollywood sign, the Coliseum, or City Hall did.
“That’s going to be in a lot of ways what everybody’s going to see in 2028 when they come to the Olympics,” Garcetti said. “I’m sure it will be part of the torch relay when the Olympics come around. We should wear everything here.”
Construction took six years, stalled by the pandemic and unforeseen ground conditions. But unlike most bridges, which were built primarily to support the weight of large rigs thrown down them, the new bridge is meant to hold massive celebrations.
Engineers tailored its capacity to accommodate tens of thousands of people, not just cars and trucks. And its thousands of LED lights hidden in the arches and under the beams can transform the gray viaduct to Dodger Blue or any other color of the rainbow the occasion calls for. Officials have dubbed the new bridge the “Line of Light.”
“It’s very rare that you configure a bridge to be able to go down and carry pedestrians,” said Michael Jones, senior engineer at HNTB Corp. and lead project manager of the bridge. “Most bridges are not designed for celebrations or special occasions. But that’s exactly what the city wants to use it for. Like shutting it down if the Rams win the Super Bowl again.”
The 3,500-foot bridge was designed by architect Michael Maltzan, who focused on creating “something that could weld the city together in a more consistent way.” The design was selected by the Bureau of Engineering in an international competition.
Some bicycle advocates, such as Michael Schneider, founder of mobility advocacy group Streets For All, were disappointed with the final design. Bike lanes, he said, don’t have as many safeguards as the pedestrian walkway, which is shielded by a low concrete wall.
“I think it says a lot about Los Angeles that we’re spending over half a billion dollars on a bridge and people using bikes are an afterthought,” Schneider said. “The bike path is protected by thin plastic bollards with these low rubber stoppers. These are not designed to stop a car. They are actually designed to minimize damage if a car hits them and a cyclist could be killed.”
Others fear the bridge will herald further gentrification in Boyle Heights, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where many working-class residents fear eviction as wealthier newcomers drive up rents and property values.
Aesthetically speaking, walking across the bridge and taking in the view captures so much of what Los Angeles is. The freeways and skyscrapers, fancy lofts and rusting warehouses, jails, art, graffiti, palm trees and slums, the mountains and the sea breeze, the dirt and beauty of the city in one big sweep.
“The Hollywood sign, along with the Griffith Observatory, was the iconic symbol of Los Angeles, but there’s a new star in the city,” said Councilman Kevin de León, who oversees the working-class Latino neighborhoods of the Eastside and the Arts District in Los Angeles represents the city center. “It’s the 6th Street Bridge and it symbolizes much more than just the Hollywood elite. It symbolizes the working class people of Los Angeles who are the backbone of this economy.”
The bridge, which was more than $100 million over budget and delayed by two years, replaced the 6th Street Viaduct. Built in 1932, the The modern bridge suffered from what engineers called “concrete cancer,” which was constantly dissipating due to a chemical reaction and requiring replacement.
A grievous loss for conservationists, it was one of the most graceful of 12 spans built to cross the river as the once-remote West Coast town grew into a metropolis. Designed by urban engineer Merrill Butler, the 6th Street Viaduct was the last and longest of its kind and was named “the greatest of the monumental river bridges” by the Los Angeles Conservancy.
“The beauty and function of our bridges is often forgotten,” said William Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. “People often look past them, even when they’re driving it.”
But he’s hoping the new range lives up to this weekend’s hype.
“You can’t really plan for cult status, it just has to happen,” he said. “But if you can power a public space and gather on a bridge — spanning the LA River — that can have all kinds of cultural celebrations and gatherings, I think that could be absolutely iconic and extremely important.”
The six-year construction period was a massive undertaking involving 89 subcontractors, 8,250 tons of steel and 15,000 feet of steel cable. The pandemic delayed some construction work and supply chain disruptions drove up costs. Even though it will open at the weekend, the railings on the stairs leading up and down the viaduct have yet to be delivered due to delivery delays and labor shortages.
“It’s beautiful,” said Rafael German, 24, who strolled onto the viaduct on Friday. “Here we have the best view of the entire city center.”
Born in Tijuana and raised in Boyle Heights, he can see the bridge from the home he shares there with his wife and 2-year-old. In high school, he trained for basketball by running down Cesar Chavez Avenue to Union Station and then east, across the old bridge home. He’s watched it be demolished in recent years, and after 12-hour days working security at a hotel, he’d often come in after his shift to see the new span being erected.
Under the bridge is a sprawling park that costs $40 million and will be the city’s next “central park,” according to Garcetti. Scheduled to open by 2024, it will feature a small amphitheater, soccer fields, and walking paths.
Deutsch welcomes the changes but, like others, is tired of moving on Gentrification in Boyle Heights. New art galleries, breweries and the possible redevelopment of the 1927 Sears, Roebuck & Co. building into market-standard lofts have worried many that the neighborhood’s character is changing for a different class of residents. Rent in Germany has increased by $400 to $1,400 a month in the last two years.
He fears the bridge will bring the more affluent ever closer.
“I’m just a little scared of . . . that they’re taking over this side,” German said. “The people with money.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-09/the-6th-street-viaduct-opens-delivering-a-love-letter-to-los-angeles The 6th Street Viaduct opens, delivering ‘a love letter to Los Angeles’