The Sixth Street Viaduct is just a memory. With the removal of the bridge over the 101, there are now just a series of closed bridges with a gap in the middle, perhaps an exciting place to reenact the final scene from Fellini’s “Toby Dammit”, a long concrete ramp into oblivion. For the next three years, until Michael Maltzan’s new viaduct is completed in late 2019, Downtown Los Angeles and Boyle Heights are separated as they were before 1932, when our iconic viaduct opened. Now it’s just fodder for graffiti artists, secret races, photographers and maybe a few more suicides (photo courtesy of USC).
What’s a viaduct? A viaduct is a series of bridges strung together; there are six bridges making up the Sixth Street Viaduct (from east to west): The bridge over Interstate 5, the bridge over Interstate 10, the bridge over US Highway 101, the long span over the Flats, the double-arched bridge over the Los Angeles River, and the landing span between the River and Mateo Street.
The powers that be, of course, won’t say how the rest of the viaduct will be demolished just yet, but it’s likely they’ll move from east to west, just as J. Frank Parnell did in 1984. The two bridge spans over I-5 and I-10 were built in the early 1960s with the East LA Interchange and are not part of the replacement. For those (and there are many, especially on certain Facebook groups) who continue to bemoan why the bridge won’t be reconstructed as a replica, the railroads withdrew the easement they granted in their right-of-way in 1932, in order to accommodate more tracks (including that mythic high speed rail.) There are five support structures, including the arches, which can not be replaced without this easement. It also gives more street cred to those of us who grew up with this viaduct (see photo), and lights a redevelopment fire under the neighborhoods under and around the viaduct.
The Sixth Street Viaduct was the longest and last of the great bridges crossing the Los Angeles River to Downtown. The first was a covered bridge at Macy Street (now Cesar E. Chavez Avenue), completed in 1873, although there were earlier wooden bridges. Macy and Aliso (now the 101 bridge) were situated at a place where the Los Angeles River, dry in summer and flooding in winter, began to slow down and turn back west after rushing out of the narrows by Elysian Park, where the Arroyo Seco meets the River. They crossed to a low point in the bluffs of Brooklyn Heights, where wealthy French residents built houses along Pleasant (that’s Ple-SANT) Avenue. There’s still a Bridge Street just north of Chavez Avenue. In 1889 the covered bridge was moved down to cross the river at Ninth Street, and Macy got an iron truss bridge like the one built at Aliso in 1881. Between 1910 and 1932, the iron railroad and road bridges were all replaced, and brand new bridges built at Washington Boulevard and Sixth Street. Before the viaduct, the only way across Sixth Street was to ford the river; you can still see a stub of the old Sixth Street just north of the viaduct, originally called Inez Street. A short bit of Inez marks the south fence of Pico Gardens; it used to climb the hill up to Boyle Avenue, now the entrance to a public storage facility. Our oldest bridge is the Main Street Bridge, also the only road bridge at-grade, which was opened in 1910.
The new Sixth Street Viaduct was designed by Michael Maltzan of the California firm HNTB, and will be built by Skanska, one of the largest construction companies in the world, headquartered in Sweden, and Stacy and Witbeck of Alameda, California. Unlike our former viaduct, it will have connections to the Flats along Anderson Street on the east side of the Los Angeles River, a rapidly gentrifying area of warehouses, art galleries (Chimento, Nicodim, MaRS, Venus Over Los Angeles), the Pico Gardens housing project, and some of the oldest industrial buildings in the city. If you know any rich people, take them for a walk, and ask them to buy you a building. And think up a better name for real estate agents to call the Flats, which is doomed to be flooded by the River someday. Until then, it’s hot property.
See you on the Fourth Street Bridge!