Brooklyn and San Francisco may have their world-renowned bridges, but Los Angeles, its concrete river channels notwithstanding, also has its masterpieces.
They are barely noticed by harried commuters-the tendency is to look out over bridges instead of at them-and they're sometimes desecrated by taggers.
There is, of course, the Colorado Street Bridge-Suicide Bridge, as it is still widely known-with its nine arches that span elegantly across the Arroyo Seco. And the Los Angeles River bridges east of Downtown, ranging from the Spanish-style Macy Street Viaduct to the Washington Boulevard Bridge, graced with panels depicting stages in the design and construction of a bridge. And the Shakespeare Bridge in the Los Feliz area, distinguished by its decorative, steeple-like Gothic turrets.
The Los Angeles River bridges were designed, according to a 1923 city engineer's report, to "excite comment from visitors who enter and leave the city by railways" and "to raise the status of Los Angeles as an enterprising, properly developed city."
Several of the bridges have been designated historic cultural monuments.
"So ingrained is our modern perception of the bridge as a strictly functional structure that the Los Angeles River bridges themselves seem strange," Stephen D. Mikesell wrote in the Historical Society of Southern California journal. "They are like artifacts of a distant culture."
"The river is nothing," said architectural historian Robert Winter. "But the bridges are sensational."
Clark Robins, a city structural engineer who oversees the condition of nearly 800 Los Angeles city bridges, singled out as a favorite the 7th Street Bridge, or should we say bridges. The first bridge was built in 1908 to extend over the river. When railroad tracks were placed alongside the river, a second bridge was built in 1927-about 30 feet above the original one.
"It's one of a kind as far as I know," Robins said.
Robins thinks the city's old bridges are "real achievements that have been forgotten." He said the city is trying to restore the old bridges while making them earthquake safe.
The oldest Los Angeles River bridge is the North Broadway, built in 1910; most of the bridges were constructed in the 1920s and '30s to accommodate the growing population to the east.
The fancy bridge work eventually was overshadowed by another project-the freeway system.
The city's bridge designers were assigned to the early planning of the Pasadena and Hollywood freeways. As a result, a sharp eye can detect their work on bridges along the routes-Avenue 26, Avenue 43 and Avenue 60 on the Pasadena Freeway; Mulholland, Barham and Pilgrimage along the Hollywood- according to historian Mikesell.
Some of the more modern freeway bridges can be spectacular, too, Winter said. The four-level interchange in Downtown, built in 1954, has been designated a "civil engineering landmark" by the local chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Here are some of the historic bridges:
* Colorado Street Bridge-Dedicated in 1913 as the highest concrete span in the world, the 160-foot-high and 1,468-foot-long bridge became known as "Suicide Bridge" after a series of fatal leaps from it in the 1930s.
* Glendale-Hyperion Viaduct-Built in 1927, the span over the Los Angeles River and Golden State Freeway in the Los Feliz area features graceful arches and octagonal pylons. It was built as a memorial to World War I veterans.
* Macy Street Viaduct-The 1926 bridge on Cesar E. Chavez Avenue was built in Spanish Colonial style with Ionic and Doric columns and street lights inscribed with the city seal.
* 4th and Lorena Street Bridge-Built in 1928, it is one of the few remaining catenary, or curved, arch bridges in the city.
* Fletcher Drive Bridge-Completed in 1928, this bridge is a reinforced concrete structure in Classical style.
* Santa Fe Arroyo Seco Railroad Bridge-Extending above the Pasadena Freeway, this bridge, circa 1895, is the highest such structure in Los Angeles County and probably the oldest one in use, according to the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, which declared it a city landmark.
* Franklin Avenue Bridge, also known as the Shakespeare Bridge-Built in 1925, the 262-foot-long bridge spans a ravine between St. George Street and Myra Avenue. Legend has it that it was built by Cecil B. DeMille or Walt Disney, both nearby residents, for some cinematic purpose. Actually, it was the work of a city engineer, J. C. Wright.
* Sunset Boulevard Bridge-Constructed in 1934 across Silver Lake Boulevard, this city landmark features Romanesque arches.
* Vincent Thomas Bridge-Dedicated in 1963, Southern California's longest suspension bridge-with twin green towers thrusting into the sky over Los Angeles Harbor-extends 6,060-feet from San Pedro to Terminal Island.
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