Archive for the ‘california’ Tag

LA River bridges tour, part 1

Los Angeles is a wonderful walking city, rough around the edges, but I think it’s best seen on foot. Plus, there are a lot of pedestrians, and plenty of people taking the underrated public transit system.

In my previous post, I outlined a walk that took in the variety of the bridges that cross the LA River downtown. It threads through mostly older neighborhoods and industrial areas just east of the downtown core. In early June 2015, I took a walking tour of most of the downtown bridges, so here’s part of the tour. The typical June gloom day was ideal for walking around, since there’s very little shade in this part of town, keeping the temperatures, and the temperature of the pavement, tolerable.

Of course, not following my own advice, I drove into downtown and parked at Union Station. I started by going north on Alameda Street, which then blended into Spring Street and headed in a rough northeast direction down a busy traffic thoroughfare, though sparse with walkers like me. About a mile north of Union Station is the short North Spring Street Bridge (1928), part of a closely spaced trio of bridges, each of them fairly similar in their design. This one is being retrofitted right now.

North Spring Street Bridge (1928), and the very apocalyptic landscape of the LA River

North Spring Street Bridge (1928), and the gritty landscape of the LA River. Truly a concrete jungle out here.

The eastern end of the Spring Street Bridge lies one block from the North Broadway Viaduct (1911), which is bookended by a set of elegant columns. It’s built on a grander scale than its neighbor, with a few additional decorative flourishes, like this central set of columns midway through the span. The Broadway Bridge is heavily restored and retrofitted, and although the original ornament has been duplicated, the surfaces are clearly new. It’s not really perceptible to drivers, but walking across, it was a somewhat disappointing experience seeing how “new” it was. I recognize of course that the retrofits were necessary given how seismically active the Southland is.

I turned north at Solano Avenue, heading up Solano Canyon, one of those unfortunate neighborhoods that felt the effects of the Pasadena Freeway (Arroyo Seco Parkway) in the 1940s, and then the construction of Dodger Stadium in the late 1950s. In effect, it’s been split in two by the Parkway, and the geography keeps it a rather isolated, funky enclave that’s not often visited. It seems to maintain a sense of community often lacking in an anonymous big city, let alone a very spread out big city like LA. I crossed under the freeway and then up the stairway to the walkway along the Parkway. Once you reach the LA River crossing, the sidewalk is in pretty terrible condition, pretty much a garbage dump in places, littered with broken glass. Even for a now seasoned barefooter like me, it’s a challenging place to walk safely.

Gotta tread carefully!

Gotta tread carefully!

Now at the base of the stairway, my route entered a rather forlorn part of town, passing the neglected confluence of the Arroyo Seco and LA River, the imposing, threatening presence of the Lincoln Heights Jail, and finally back to civilization at North Broadway.

Lincoln Heights Jail, I think this might be a great place to explore, anyone?

Lincoln Heights Jail, I think this might be a great place to explore, anyone?

After some lunch at Carnitas Michoacan, I continued my walk through Lincoln Heights, full of Victorian structures in various states of repair, finally reaching North Main Street at the Brewery art colony. I turned back towards Union Station. Main Street passes the last remnants of the old Italian community that used to be here, now just an Italian deli and the historic San Antonio Winery structures. It’s going the way of other historic Italian neighborhoods, like New York’s Little Italy and East Harlem, where the American melting pot finally mixed. The Main Street Bridge (1910), the oldest and shortest of the LA River spans, leads into an industrial neighborhood on one side, and the World War II-era, International style William Mead Houses (1942), aka Dogtown, on the opposite side. Despite the reputation of public housing, this appears to be a vital and well-kept public housing project.

Lincoln Heights funkiness

Lincoln Heights funkiness

The next set of bridges are in downtown proper, starting with the Macy Street Bridge, now Cesar Chavez Street Bridge. Stay tuned.

Advertisements

Los Angeles River bridge walk

The LA River cuts through the eastern edge of downtown Los Angeles, deep in a concrete jungle of warehouses, trendy lofts, America’s largest Skid Row, and some of the busiest commercial areas of the city. A series of historic bridges were built in the early 20th century, to provide essential infrastructure, but also to re-build after disastrous flooding along the river. The channel itself was covered in concrete mid-century, so very few traces of the wooded, meandering river still exist.

Downtown, from north to south, it starts with the complex of bridges of the Arroyo Seco Parkway and the unusual sidewalk that straddles the northbound and southbound lanes of the 110. I’ve written about that in a previous post. South of this are the Broadway, Spring, North Main, Cesar Chavez, 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th, Olympic Blvd., and Washington Blvd. bridges, ranging from the modest to the grand, built between 1905 and 1933. They’re perhaps the most hidden and underappreciated structures of the city, beautifully detailed, but mercilessly spray painted, graffitied, and covered in trash. They are also the most viewed structures in the city, appearing in countless commercials and movies. Seismically, they were built before current earthquake code, and many aspects of the bridges have been modified, or copied, or widened. So in classic LA fashion, they look unchanged from a distance, but up close, the changes, makeup, and restoration really show. The development of the Arts District on the west side of the river and the slow gentrification of Boyle Heights on the east, has brought the bridges back in focus, and they are busy creative spaces. It’s easy to find a fashion or film shoot going on at any hour, but also easy to find solitary, creepy zones.

I put together a route that links the bridges in downtown LA, which can be found in the link below, and walked them in June 2015. I’ll try to post on my walk in a future entry on this blog. Happy exploring!

Arroyo Seco Walkway, Los Angeles

This is one of the strangest, thrilling walks in Los Angeles, a sidewalk that is sandwiched between the northbound (lower) and southbound (upper) lanes of the Pasadena Freeway (CA-110) as it tunnels through Elysian Park and crosses the Los Angeles River. Rarely used and hard to access, it has a certain element of creepiness to it, and a real feeling of discovery.

The freeway and tunnels are Art Deco in style. Originally the four tunnels, completed between 1931-1935, were part of Figueroa Street as it exited north from downtown, and the sidewalks were on the sides of the tunnels. The tunnels were converted into the Pasadena Freeway, and then the southbound lanes were completed in late 1943. A connector with I-5 was finished in the late 1950s. The Pasadena Freeway, or Arroyo Seco Parkway as it’s sometimes called, is architecturally distinguished, but was engineered for 40 mph, and not the 60+ mph that motorists typically drive. The on and off-ramps are very tight and hazardous, and the freeway also split the Solano Canyon neighborhood, north of downtown, in half.

Southern access at Stadium Way (just past the left edge of the photo).

Southern access at Stadium Way (just past the left edge of the photo).

Solano Avenue access, take this stairway from the elementary school up to the sidewalk.

Solano Avenue access, take this stairway from the elementary school up to the sidewalk.

As for the walkway, it’s accessed from the south at Stadium Way, just past the freeway overpass. There are two access points off of Amador Street and Solano Avenue near the elementary school (one requires squeezing in through a hold in the fence), and finally a stairway at the northern end that connects to San Fernando Road. Traffic is literally on the other side of a chain link fence, and there are various social trails and homeless camps above the tunnels. I don’t exactly recommend walking this alone, or at night. I walked this twice, and had it all to myself the first time, and saw 4 people the second time.

The northern end is highlighted by a spiral staircase on the south side of the LA River, which must surprise northbound drivers seeing pedestrians walking along the freeway. The north stairway is really grungy, liberally sprinkled with broken glass, construction debris, and a lot of garbage. The whole walkway is noisy, dirty, and not exactly peaceful, but must rank as one of the weirdest walks in the city.

View from the top of the spiral staircase, looking north.

View from the top of the spiral staircase, looking north.

Spiral stairway linking the upper and lower level (south of the LA River).

Spiral stairway linking the upper and lower level at the I-5 interchange (south of the LA River).

Northern stairway, pretty dirty.

Northern stairway, pretty dirty.

Sixth Street Viaduct, Los Angeles

Another post about a doomed structure.

This is LA’s grandest bridge, and at 3500 feet in length, the longest span over the industrial LA River basin. The Sixth Street Viaduct (Bridge) is one of the city’s most recognized landmarks, seen in countless movies, commercials, and photos. There’s usually someone filming in the river basin below, and plenty of photographers in the area, despite the rather desolate setting of the immediate area. Technically, it’s a viaduct, crossing the river and several 1950s-era freeway spans before becoming Whittier Blvd. in Boyle Heights. The design is classic Art Deco, with a graceful, asymmetric double arch where it bends and crosses the river. The eastern entrance is a modified, angled obelisk, with a classic view of downtown LA in the distance.

Soaring over the industrial flats east of the LA River.

Soaring over the industrial flats east of the LA River.

It’s also crumbling, the concrete mix used in construction was faulty, and the structure was deteriorating from the start. The bridge was completed in 1932, and demolition will start in summer 2015. Fortunately, the replacement bridge is a stunning design with a clear nod to the old one.

View from near Santa Fe Avenue.

View from near Santa Fe Avenue, January 2014.

LA skyline from the bridge.

LA skyline from the bridge.

A closeup view shows lots of loose concrete, plenty of cracks, and structural damage. The structural problems led to many changes in the architecture of the bridge over the years. The fancy central pylon was removed a few years after completion, and the piers at the ends of the arches were shortened.

The Sixth Street Bridge as is appeared shortly after completion. Note Art Deco central pylon. Photo from LA Public Library collection.

The Sixth Street Bridge as is appeared shortly after completion. Note Art Deco central pylon. Photo from LA Public Library collection.

The bridge as it appeared in 1950, photo by William Reagh, from the LA Public Library collection. Central pylon has been removed.

The bridge as it appeared in 1950, with the central pylon removed. Photo by William Reagh, from the LA Public Library collection.

Salk Institute, San Diego

This is one of my favorite buildings, it sounds like a pretty charmed place to do science, unless you’re stuck in the basement. This was a design that occupied Louis Kahn for many years, although nothing like the very drawn out efforts he undertook in Bangladesh and India, or even his very recently finished Four Freedoms Park in New York.

It’s 50 years old now, and every bit as striking today as ever. Kahn’s work doesn’t really fit into any category, but can be viewed as a reaction against the glass and steel and exposed structure of Mies. His buildings are not lightweight, but monumental, exuding mass and solidity, it’s not organic like Wright, the buildings don’t grow out of their surroundings, but stand apart. Kahn relies on the simplest of geometric forms, circles, cylinders, arches, rectangles, blocks. In doing so here, he’s put together a pair of mirror image structures that frame the Pacific Ocean and the sky. He’s managed to skillfully connect the building with its surroundings in several ways. The studies for those lucky scientists, in these separate tower structures, all face the ocean, and standing in the courtyard, one naturally gazes towards the horizon, and even the central stream of water bisecting the courtyard runs towards the ocean. At the right time of day, that stream of water gives the visual impression of actually merging with the Pacific.

That amazing view of the Pacific Ocean, with the stream of water in the center.

That amazing view of the Pacific Ocean, with the stream of water in the center.

View of the tower unit housing the studies.

View of the tower unit housing the studies.

Closeup of the studies, weathered teak, glass, and concrete.

Closeup of the studies, weathered teak, glass, and concrete.

The concrete mass is contrasted by the abundance of wood, teak that has weathered in the foggy, salty San Diego climate, and the travertine marble of the courtyard. Once you walk further into the building, a much more complex geometry emerges, still lots of concrete, but now plenty of glass, a basement level that still catches some sunlight, and many vantage points for the visitor and the people who work inside. This is a great, if unromantic, place to watch the sun set.