We had a lot of rain in February. Not long after the storms passed I took some photos of the LA River along the Glendale Narrows. While it was nothing like the raging torrent it had been a few days before, the runoff from the rains was still flowing freely. It was a great day to take a walk along the river.
The old Sixth Street Bridge is gone. It was torn down early in 2016. The demolition was necessary because the concrete in the original structure was decaying. Work has begun on constructing a new Sixth Street Bridge, and right now it looks like it will be finished in 2020. (For the record, the formal project title is the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project.)
Bridges are about making connections. The original structure was built in 1932, and was one of a series of bridges that spans the LA River. This ambitious infrastructure project started in the 20s and continued through the 30s, eventually allowing numerous crossings between Downtown and East LA. Here are a few photos of the old Sixth Street Bridge.
The renderings of the new bridge are striking. It was designed by architect Michael Maltzan, but the project is a team effort, and the goal is to produce something much more than a bridge. Here’s a quote from Maltzan’s web site.
The design team including Michael Maltzan Architecture (Design Architect), HNTB (Engineer and Executive Architect), Hargreaves Associates (Landscape Architect), and AC Martin (Urban Planning) began with the fundamental understanding that the Viaduct is more than a simple replacement thoroughfare crossing the Los Angeles River. The project instead foresees a multimodal future for the City, one that accommodates cars, incorporates significant new bicycle connections. It also increases connectivity for pedestrians to access the Viaduct, not only at its endpoints, but along the entirety of the span, linking the bridge, the Los Angeles River, and future urban landscapes in a more meaningful relationship.
The project also includes a park and an arts center. You can see some images here.
Here are some shots of the project site from March 2017, when work on the new bridge was just beginning.
And here are some shots from August 2017.
For the team involved with the design, this project is all about bringing things together, creating connections and offering new ways for people to experience this space. One of the chief goals is to link the Arts District with Boyle Heights and the LA River. That sounds pretty cool in the abstract, but in actual fact there are a lot of reasons to worry about the downside. I’m sure Maltzan and his team see this project as a positive thing, but that’s not surprising. They’re architects and engineers engaged in creating a spectacular new piece of infrastructure. And of course the City’s website is all about the upside. But really, the City’s glib promo materials don’t begin to describe what’s happening here. By itself, the new bridge may sound great, but if you look at it in the larger context of the area’s culture and economy, you start to realize that this project could have serious negative impacts.
Any large scale infrastructure project, any attempt to remake the landscape, is going to affect the surrounding communities. These impacts can be good or bad, and often it’s a mix of the two. In this case, the biggest issue is one that never gets mentioned on the City’s web site. It’s the same issue that communities all over LA are dealing with. Displacement. Downtown LA has been going through a massive construction boom, with high-end housing and high-end retail largely transforming that community into an upscale enclave. Now developers are eyeing neighborhoods on the other side of the river.
The residents of Boyle Heights are already feeling the effects of gentrification, as real estate investors looking for cheap land and big profits have been buying up parcels in the area. Evictions are already happening, and many people who live in this largely Latino community are afraid they’ll be next. You may have read about the protests that have taken place in recent years. Here are some shots from an action staged by East LA residents in September 2016. Protesters met at the intersection of Whittier and Boyle, where the old bridge touched down on the East Side.
The protest movement in Boyle Heights has gotten a fair amount of media attention, partly because in some cases the protesters have used aggressive tactics in trying to shut down a new coffee house and some local galleries. They see these businesses as the first outposts of coming gentrification. There are people who have questioned the protesters’ methods, complaining that they’ve gone too far. But let me ask you this. If you were in danger of losing your home and being driven out of your neighborhood, how far do you think you’d be willing to go?
It’s no accident that communities like Boyle Heights have been targeted by real estate investors. Land is cheaper there than in Downtown, and they know that the completion of the bridge and the accompanying amenities will make the area more desirable to upscale residents. We’ve already seen something similar happen in the Arts District. A largely low-income community has been rapidly transformed by a massive influx of developer dollars, and the people who had lived there for years, in fact, the people who actually built the community, have been driven out. A similar scenario has been unfolding in Hollywood, and with the construction of the Crenshaw/LAX line you can see the same thing happening in communities like Leimert Park.
Investment in a community can be a good thing, but not when it drives out the people who have spent their lives there. And these days it’s not a gradual evolution. City Hall works with developers to target areas for rapid growth, almost all of it geared toward affluent new residents. When the City or County lays plans for new infrastructure, like light rail or parks or, in this case, a bridge, real estate investors move in quickly. Often these investors are well connected at City Hall and already have possible projects in mind. In other cases they’re speculators just snapping up parcels that they know will rise in value. They don’t plan to build anything, since they know they can make a profit just by sitting on the property until new infrastructure is in place. And Mayor Garcetti gleefully promotes the aggressive transformation of these communities, apparently without giving a thought to the real suffering that displacement is causing for thousands of Angelenos. It seems he feels he was elected just to serve the affluent.
These days I hear so much talk about making LA a “world class city”, and I’m really sick of it. Garcetti’s idea of creating a “world class city” is about pouring billions into new infrastructure so that developers can cash in by building upscale enclaves for the affluent. Personally, I don’t care what class LA is in. If we can’t help hardworking people stay in their homes, if we can’t support communities that people have invested their lives in building, then this city is a failure.
You can spend all the money you want on bridges and parks and rivers and rail lines. All that stuff is meaningless if at the same time we’re dismantling our communities, the human infrastructure that really holds this city together.
Yesterday I went down to Long Beach to take part in the annual LA River Clean-Up, organized by Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR). The Willow Street Estuary isn’t far from where the river flows into the ocean, and it’s one of the few stretches where the bottom is earth instead of concrete.
There were already plenty of people there when I showed up a little after nine. It took just a few minutes to sign the waiver, grab a trash bag and do the orientation. Then I joined the crowd of people climbing down the bank to the river.
If you don’t know what an estuary is, don’t feel bad. I didn’t either until I looked it up on the net. Generally speaking it’s where a river nears the ocean, and fresh water meets salt water. They’re an important part of the ecosystem, filtering runoff and serving as a breeding ground for fish and birds. Watch this video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to learn more.
Aside from organizing the LA River Clean-Up, FOLAR presents events throughout the year. They’ve been working to preserve and restore the river longer than anyone else, and they’ve racked up an impressive list of accomplishments in their 30 year history. If you want to get involved, start by visiting their web site.
Sunday afternoon I took a walk across the Hyperion Bridge. I shot this short video on the way up.
I also spent some time at Red Car River Park, just next to the bridge. Here’s another short video shot from the park.
Yesterday I got up earlier than I usually do on a Saturday. It took some effort, but by nine o’ clock I’d made it to Marsh Park so I could take part in the annual LA River clean-up event organized by Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR).
This stretch of the river is bordered by a mix of older stucco homes and industrial buildings. Marsh Park seems to wind its way through the neighborhood, I’m assuming because it was planned to take advantage of unused open space. It’s nicely landscaped, and has a cool play area for kids.
Dozens of people had made it there ahead of me. I got a pair of gloves and a trash bag, and after a brief orientation they set us loose on the river. The guy who gave us the ground rules said that twenty seven years ago, when FoLAR started doing these annual clean-ups, they came across all kinds of things in the river bed. In the early days they’d be hauling out mattresses, shopping carts, and even cars. These days, he went on to say, it was mostly a matter of picking up plastic bags.
FoLAR has been taking care of this long-neglected natural treasure for thirty years. Unlike the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation, a latecomer with a pro-development agenda, FoLAR’s members have been trying for decades to realize the river’s tremendous potential as a public resource. Back when most of us were making jokes about this massive concrete channel that wound its way through the landscape, Lewis MacAdams and his cohorts saw what the river had once been and could be again. They’ve been working diligently since the eighties to protect and restore the LA River, and to educate the rest of us about its past and possible future.
I spent a while collecting trash, and then I wandered off to take pictures. I’d never walked along the river bed before. It was pretty cool. I don’t know about you, but for most of my life I barely noticed the LA River. Encased in concete, bounded by industrial parks and rail lines, running beneath dozens of bridges, it’s as if the river has been buried by the city. We’re only starting to dig it out now. It will be many years before we uncover its real potential.
I’m so glad I made the effort to be there for the clean-up. It was a great day. And it’s just one of many events that FoLAR holds throughout the year. Check out their web site for more info.
A while ago I took a walk across the Sixth Street Bridge to get some photos of it before they tear it down. Looking out over the landscape, I saw the other bridges that span the LA River, linking Downtown and East LA. I started thinking it would be cool to take pictures of them as well.
It’s taken me forever to get started on that project, but recently I took a walk across the Cesar Chavez Bridge. There is something kind of thrilling about seeing the surrounding area from that vantage point. Much of the landscape is hard, grey concrete. Power lines criss-cross the sky. But you can also see the hills in the distance, and on the day I crossed the bridge there were massive clouds billowing all along the horizon.
Today the bridge is part of Cesar Chavez Avenue, created back in the nineties to commemorate the courageous labor leader who helped organize California’s farm workers. The segment that includes the bridge was formerly called Macy Street, but it’s also part of the historic Camino Real, the road built by the Spanish to connect their missions back when they governed California. The first bridge built on the site was erected in the nineteenth century, but it was demolished at the beginning of the twentieth. In the twenties, the City of LA began an effort to construct a series of viaducts across the LA River, and this bridge, then called the Macy Street Bridge, was part of that effort.
For years I’ve seen this massive mound of debris resting on the north side of the bridge. I have no idea where it came from or if it’s ever going away. If you look closely you can see that plants have started to grow here and there. It’s become part of the landscape, an artificial hill rising up over the river and the rail lines.
The bridge is lined with lampposts on either side, and decorated with porticos ornamented in the Spanish Revival style that was popular in the twenties. There are plaques affixed to the porticos explaining that the bridge is dedicated to Father Junipero Serra, the founder of the California missions. Serra’s legacy is controversial, since he was a major player in Spain’s effort to subjugate the native population. The Vatican’s recent decision to canonize him has ignited the debate all over again.
If you want to learn more about the Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge, below is a link to an article on KCET’s web site that talks about the origins of a number of LA bridges. To see more images and to access info about it’s history, check out the links to the Library of Congress.
Around the middle of the twentieth century, over a period of decades, the LA County Flood Control District did their damnedest to encase most of the city’s waterways in concrete. Apparently it seemed like a good idea at the time. From our contemporary perspective, it looks like a colossal mistake. But what can we do? We don’t have the means to break up the hundreds of miles of concrete that were poured back in the last century. So we’re doing what we can, getting behind small projects that we hope will eventually have a cumulative impact.
I’ve lived in LA all my life, and it still amazes me how little I know about this city. The Tujunga Wash runs from the San Gabriel Mountains, across the San Fernando Valley and feeds into the LA River around Studio City. Recently I started paying attention to the stretch that runs along Coldwater Canyon between Burbank and Oxnard. What I found was pretty interesting.
Above Oxnard, I found the Tujunga Wash Greenway and Stream Restoration Project. What used to be a drab stretch of land running alongside a drab stretch of concrete has been transformed into a lush green walkway which helps to replenish our groundwater.
For a better explanation than I could give, click on this link to a page at the Landscape Architecture Foundation. They also provide before and after pictures to give you a sense of how dramatic the change has been.
Below Oxnard, I found the Great Wall of Los Angeles. This is a massive, amazing public art project which presents a history of Los Angeles starting with the first people who lived in the area and ending in the fifties. The project is the brainchild of Judy Baca, founder of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC). It was begun in the seventies, with over 400 young people and their families working over five summers to create the mural that currently covers a half mile of concrete inside the Tujunga Wash.
The mural starts with images of the Chumash Indians.
It covers the construction of the the massive projects that helped build the city, like the railroads….
….and the aqueduct.
It illustrates the multiple waves of migration the populated the area.
There are images of the traumatic upheavals that shaped LA.
It takes us through the baby boom….
….and the beginnings of rock n’ roll.
There are plans to paint another four decades, which would bring the project up to the end of the twentieth century. For more information, and to find out how to donate, visit SPARC’s web site.
You won’t find much water in the Tujunga Wash these days. But you will find some other things that are worth checking out.
A few months ago a friend and I were going down Forest Lawn Drive near Griffith Park. While she drove I was gazing out the window, and I was surprised to see a huge construction site spread out across the bed of the LA River. I hadn’t heard anything about a project planned for that area, and at first I was alarmed. What the hell were they doing to the river?
After investigating a little, I found out that this was the Headworks Reservoir, and it involves the construction of two huge underground containers which will hold 110 million gallons of water. The idea is that when the project is completed it will provide drinking water to area residents who are now served by the Silverlake reservoir complex. In large part this effort was spurred by new rules handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency. Open reservoirs, like those in the Silverlake complex, are subject to contamination from many different sources. The Headworks project will comply with the new EPA rules and provide safe drinking water for thousands of Angelenos. Aside from improved water quality, the deal includes a 4-megawatt hydroelectric plant to provide more power for the city. And if that’s not enough, once the tanks are completed there are plans to turn the surface area into a park which would include riparian wetlands, bike paths and equestrian trails.
Sound cool? Well, the finished project probably will be pretty nice. The DWP had to find some way to comply with the new EPA standards. And the park/wetlands component will surely be a big improvement over the sterile concrete channel that exists now. But…
There are some questions about the cost of the project and the process that was followed to make it happen. The City of LA initially said the price tag would be $230 million. That figure has now risen to $319 million. Those who follow local news already know that the DWP has been accused more than once of scamming its customers. The fact that the tab for Headworks has gone up almost 40 percent is definitely troubling. There are also questions about why the City chose this option when there were other, cheaper proposals on the table. If you’re a DWP ratepayer, you’ll want to read Jack Humphreville’s breakdown of the project on CityWatch.
For a general overview of the project, here’s a summary from the DWP.
Bottom line, the project is happening. And I do believe it’s a good thing over all. But it bothers me to think that we’re getting ripped off by the DWP once again. I’m glad Garcetti is pushing for an audit of the agency’s shady non-profits, but I’d really like to see a full audit of the DWP. We deserve to know where our money is going.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.