A Walk across the Sixth Street Bridge

A view of the Sixth Street Bridge from Mateo Street.

The new Sixth Street Bridge opened in July of this year.  The first few weeks were pretty chaotic, with drivers doing stunts, daredevils climbing the arches, street artists getting creative with spray paint, and more.  Things got so bad the LAPD ended up closing the bridge just to keep a lid on the mayhem.  Scenes of crashes, fireworks and people partying were making the nightly news.

Starting across the bridge from the Downtown side.

But now all the chaos seems to have faded away.  When I took a walk across the bridge earlier in December, there wasn’t much traffic and I saw only a handful of pedestrians.  It was a cool, cloudy day, and things seemed pretty peaceful.

The bridge’s arches create a sense of energy.

I have mixed feelings about the Sixth Street Bridge, which I’ve written about previously.  In this post I want to focus on the positive.  The bridge really is beautiful.  The design, by Michael Maltzan, is impressive, with the fluid lines of the arches rolling off to the horizon.  Walking across you get a sense of being lifted into the air, with stunning views of LA’s various landscapes surrounding you on all sides. 

The new Sixth Street Bridge is actually a replacement for the previous version, which was built in the early 30s.  It’s just one of a series of bridges that run across the LA River between Downtown and East LA, including the Cesar Chavez Bridge, the Fourth Street Bridge, and the Seventh Street Bridge.  All of these were built in the first half of the 20th century.

A view of the Fourth Street Bridge.
A view of the Seventh Street Bridge.

As you can see from the photo above, this area, which borders Downtown LA, is criss-crossed with multiple layers of infrastructure.  Aside from the bridges, you have the concrete surface of the LA River, rows of train tracks, and miles of electric power lines, all surrounded by a massive industrial district. 

The arches rolling off to the horizon.

Beneath the bridge you can see scores of large, nondescript buildings which were built for manufacturing and storage.  These days you’ll probably find that a number of them have been converted to ghost kitchens and cannabis greenhouses.

A view of the industrial district that lies below the Sixth Street Bridge.
Scores of drab buildings cover the landscape.

Nestled inside this vast maze of commercial buildings you’ll often come across pockets that seem neglected or deserted.  These spaces are a magnet for street artists that love the expansive, windowless exterior walls. 

The desolate spaces between these buildings draw street artists…
…who love the wide, windowless exteriors.

Coming down on the other side of the bridge, Sixth Street becomes Whittier Boulevard, which is lined with shops and restaurants serving the working class community of Boyle Heights.

The bridge lands in Boyle Heights.

It will probably be a long time before we can really see the impacts caused by the new Sixth Street Bridge.  There’s been lots of hype about the upside of this new LA landmark, but it’s also likely to accelerate the waves of gentrification and displacement that have been sweeping across the city.  Property values have already risen in Boyle Heights, and so has the number of evictions.

Like I said, though, for the moment I’ll focus on the positive.  It is a lovely bridge.

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