A Bridge from the Past to the Future

Figueroa Bridge

Just today I learned about an interesting proposal for the old Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. It was slated to be demolished following the completion of a new bridge, but some people think it could be redesigned to create a public space. Sounds like a good idea to me. If you want to learn more, click on the link below.

LandBridge at Figueroa

The photo above was taken by Osceola Refetoff, and I found it at the LA Creek Freak blog. The author gives an exhaustive history of this bridge, which you can access by clicking here.

How to Find the LA River

A view of the LA River in the late afternoon

A view of the LA River in the late afternoon

When I was a kid growing up in Burbank the LA River was a joke. It wasn’t a river at all. It was a huge concrete aqueduct with a tiny trickle of water running down the middle of it. Occasionally after heavy rains the water level would rise for a day or two. But it was nothing like the majestic waterways that flowed through other cities. It seemed like some kind of weird, synthetic excuse for a river, and it seemed perfectly in keeping with the image many people had of a LA as a weird, synthetic excuse for a city.

The LA River near Warner Bros. studios in Burbank

The LA River near Warner Bros. studios in Burbank

But over the years I’ve been hearing more and more about efforts to rethink the river. I understand now how important the LA River once was to the city, and I’m slowly beginning to realize how important it could be to LA’s future.

Back in the eighteenth century it was the source of water for the small settlement originally called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles. The river continued to provide most of LA’s water until the twentieth century, when the Owens Valley Aqueduct and the Colorado River Aqueduct were built. In the thirties, after a series of devastating floods, it was decided that the best thing to do with the LA River was encase it in cement. The US Army Corps of Engineers took charge, supervising one of the largest public works projects in US history. When it was done, the river had been transformed into a massive concrete channel.

But over the past twenty years or so, a growing number of people have been looking for ways to reclaim the river, to once again make it a vital part of the life of Los Angeles. It flows from Canoga Park across the Valley to the Glendale Narrows, and then winds through Downtown and continues all the way to Long Beach. In making that trip it is one of the few unifying factors in a city where residents often feel they have no connection to each other. It has the potential to become a vast linear park, winding its way through many of LA’s neighborhoods, providing a space where people could relax, enjoy themselves and connect with nature.

Lush greenery along the river as it runs through Griffith Park

Lush greenery along the river as it runs through Griffith Park

There are many groups involved in the effort to remake the river, but the one that’s been around the longest is Friends of the LA River.

FoLAR

If you’re interested in getting involved, there’s probably a group in your neighborhood that could put you to work.

A while ago I started taking photos of the river. It was an interesting exercise. I found that while the river has been there all my life, and I’ve crossed it at one point or another every day for decades, I’ve never taken the time to look at it. How many times did I drive past Balboa Park without ever realizing that the LA River runs right through it. I lived in Silverlake for a few years, and used the Hyperion Bridge regularly, but I never looked down to see what was below. And I’ve crossed the bridges east of downtown LA a million times, rarely pausing to take more than a glance at the river running underneath.

So if, like me, you haven’t paid much attention to the LA River, maybe you should take a walk down to the banks some time. You might be surprised at what you find.

Trees crowded around the river in Balboa Park

Trees crowded around the river in Balboa Park

Another shot of the park facing toward Balboa Blvd.

Another shot of the park facing toward Balboa Blvd.

Ducks on the river in Sherman Oaks

Ducks on the river in Sherman Oaks

More birds on the river as it flows through Sherman Oaks

More birds on the river as it flows through Sherman Oaks

Another shot of the river on the edge of Griffith Park

Another shot of the river on the edge of Griffith Park

Facing west on the outskirts of Griffith Park

Facing west on the outskirts of Griffith Park

A mural marking a tiny, but cool, park in the Glendale Narrows

A mural marking a tiny, but cool, park in the Glendale Narrows

The Glendale Narrows, just below Atwater

The Glendale Narrows, just below Atwater

The river flowing past the railyards at the edge of Downtown LA

The river flowing past the railyards at the edge of Downtown LA

The river heading out of Downtown LA, on its way to Long Beach

The river heading out of Downtown LA, on its way to Long Beach

Old and New

DSC02587There were two things I’d been wanting to do for a while. The first was to visit the Natural History Museum to see their show on LA history. The second was to take some photos of the Sixth Street Bridge, which is slated to be demolished and replaced, although that may not happen for a while. So Tuesday morning I took the Red Line down to Seventh and Figueroa, where I transferred to the Expo Line. Pretty soon I was standing on the platform at the Exposition Park station.

It might have been twenty years or more since I’d been to Exposition Park. Walking toward the fountain at the center of the gardens was sort of like walking into the past. In part, that’s because of my memory of visiting the museums as a child. But also, the three buildings that border the park are massive reminders of the ornate, imposing architecture that was considered appropriate for museums a hundred years ago. In fact, the Natural History Museum is celebrating its one hundredth anniversary this year. Their web site offers a brief history, which you can read by clicking here.

The photo above shows the current entrance to the museum, which presents a modern facade. It’s an interesting contrast to the NHM’s original entrance, which is what you see in this next photo.

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The exhibition I went to see, Becoming LA, was really good. The curators did a nice job of presenting the area’s multi-layered history, weaving together the threads of all the diverse groups that made the city what it is. Of course Becoming LA is just the latest in the recent onslaught of shows about Los Angeles. Local museums have been giving a lot of attention to the city in the past few years. I’m all in favor of highlighting LA’s art, culture, etc., but at times it seems like we’re crossing the line into bombastic self-promotion. Which, I guess, isn’t really that surprising.

After I was finished with the museum, I took the bus north on Vermont to Olympic, where I had to transfer. This put me right in the heart of Koreatown. There’s an interesting vibe in many parts of Koreatown, which I think has to do with the zillions of small businesses competing for your attention. There are numerous strip malls, and they all seem to be bursting with restaurants, karaoke bars, tech retail outlets, nail salons, etc.. Here’s one example….

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But the look of Koreatown is changing. In the image below you’re looking up Vermont toward Wilshire, where you can see two high-rise towers that combine residential and retail. I understand some Koreatown residents aren’t too happy about the wave of high-density development that’s hitting their area. I doubt that bothers the City Council, though, and it certainly doesn’t bother Mayor Garcetti. They are all one hundred percent committed to serving the developers who put them in office. Click here for more info about this massive project.

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The bus showed up and I got on. A few minutes later I got off at the end of the line, Sixth and Maple. I headed up Maple and over to Wall. As I was walking along, I heard a voice behind me.

“Excuse me. Are you a tourist?”

He must’ve seen the camera I was holding.

“No, I’ve lived in LA all my life.”

“Oh. Cuz I was just wondering if you knew this is a really horrible area.”

I laughed, but he had a point. The street was filled with people who were living on the sidewalk. The desperation was palpable. I can’t say I was really afraid, though. I spend a fair amount of time downtown, and I’ve walked through skid row now and again. If it was night, I probably would be worried. But in the harsh light of day, these people looked too beaten down, too demoralized, to be a threat.

We walked along together for a block or so. I told him I had the camera because I wanted to shoot photos of the Sixth Street Bridge. He knew the bridge was going to be replaced, but he felt it would be a long time before work actually started. Somehow we got talking about the LA City Council, and we both agreed they have absolutely no respect for the law. Interesting how the one thing that seems to bind Angelenos together is our absolute distrust of the people at City Hall.

Then we went our separate ways. I headed over to Little Tokyo for a bowl of udon and a beer. Then I started walking down Central to Sixth.

It was late afternoon. The streets were mostly deserted. There were few cars and fewer people. I walked past the Woori Market’s empty parking lot. It’s been closed for a while. There were large warehouses, like Los Angeles Cold Storage. A couple small restaurants. A lot of places have security fences, and a few were topped with barbed wire.

The bridge rises up over the warehouses and the railroad tracks. As you get near the mid-point, the landscape below stretches out for miles in every direction. Here’s a shot of the bridge looking back toward downtown.

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And here’s another looking down on the LA River.

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Freight cars covered with graffiti sit lined up below.

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And here’s another shot of the downtown area.

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On the other side of the bridge, Sixth Street becomes Whittier Blvd., which leads you into Boyle Heights. I waited for the bus in front of Carnitas Michoacán #3, which seemed to be doing steady business. And then the seven twenty showed up to take me home.