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Monday, October 20, 2014

El Sereno’s Soto Street Bridge may not have a historic leg to stand on

El Sereno Soto Street Bridge

City officials and El Sereno residents gather under Soto Street Bridge | Nathan Solis

By Nathan Solis

The Soto Street Bridge appears to have a date with a wrecking crew after a city staff report said that the nearly 80-year-old El Sereno span was not worthy of historic monument status, which could  keep the bulldozers at bay.

The nearly 500-foot-long bridge, which once carried  Red Car trolleys over the junction of Soto, Mission Road and Huntington Drive, had been nominated by the El Sereno Historical Society as a historic landmark as the city prepares to demolish the structure for a traffic and safety improvement project. A historic monument application prepared by historian Charlie Fisher claimed that the bridge was historically significant because of its Art Deco-style and as an example of the Pacific Electric Railway network.

But a staff report by the Department of City Planning challenged those claims, saying the bridge was not a “particularly outstanding or distinctive” example of Art Deco style. In addition, the report said there were many other remaining pieces of the Pacific Electric Railway  “that may better convey the essence of this significant railway system.” The report recommended that the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission, which oversees landmark nominations, reject the monument application for the “Pacific Electric’s Soto Street Bridge.”

It’s not clear how the Cultural Heritage Commission will respond to the staff recommendation.

Part of the nomination process included a field trip to the bridge organized by the Office of Historic Resources. On a rainy afternoon in February, the commissioners, who traveled via a city van, along with residents, members of the historical society and a police escort huddled under the Soto Street bridge, where beer bottles, dead pigeons, rubbish and loose gravel littered the ground.

Fisher spoke to the crowd on its historical significance. Though his voice was drowned out by the sound of traffic, the small crowd paid close attention. The bridge carried the Pacific Electric Railway Red Car over Mission Road until the 1950s when the tracks were removed. Now the bridge feeds into El Sereno from Soto Street, diverges, with roads going over, under and branching off from Huntington Drive into Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights.

During the field trip, architect and commissioner Richard Barron stood under the bridge and detailed the process of reviewing sites that could be declared Historic Cultural Monuments. When asked if he was familiar with the bridge before the nomination Barron hesitated. “I was somewhat knowledgeable of the historical significance. I never stood underneath the bridge before,” said Barron.

In 2001 the Bureau of Engineering reported that the bridge did retain many of the Art Deco ornamental elements and might qualify for the Bridge Improvement Program that would restore bridges throughout Los Angeles. But a 2002 report from the California Department of Parks and Recreation stated that the Soto Street Bridge “has lost its historic function and lacks integrity of materials, design, feeling and association.”

A 2004 study from the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering found the Soto Street Bridge a “seismic hazard” and proposed that the bridge be demolished as part of a restructuring for traffic flow.

The bridge is an eyesore to nearby resident Perry Petschar who has lived across the street from the bridge all his life. “During rush hour it takes forever to cross, because there are no traffic signals. It was built for something that doesn’t exist anymore,” says Petschar referring to the railway car.

When the commissioners and police escort left the site, a handful of people wearing T-shirts in support of saving the bridge lingered. Jorge Garcia, of El Sereno’s Historical Society, his wife Yolanda and their son stood under the bridge as traffic went by, and cars honked their horns.
Yolanda Garcia mentioned that as a child her family traveled over the bridge when she would visit her grandmother in Boyle Heights. It has always signified coming home for her.

“It’s been neglected. I would hope that the bridge does receive monument status, because we might have memories of landmarks after they’re gone, but why not save them instead?”

El Sereno Soto Street Bridge

Historian Charlie Fisher (left) and Jorge Garcia of the El Sereno Historical Society | Nathan Solis

El Sereno Soto Street Bridge

Under the bridge | Nathan Solis

Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.



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12 comments

  1. I have walked, ridden a bike, and driven under, on top, and around this bridge and I really, really, hate it and all that it stands for. It is setup now as a disgusting mini-freeway that allows San Marino commuters to abuse our lungs, endager our lives, and leave us poorer for their pleasure.

    Sadly, what is going to replace it is some b.s. engineering plate design (pg. Who Cares in the Manual of Engineers are Retards Uniformly Designing Shitty Spaces).

    There will even be a “bike lane” so we can all ride alongside 45mph traffic as the city ingeniously has us doing on Huntington Drive.

    I hope that the people designing the new bridge and the people who want to save the old one touch fingers and explode in a flash of white light leaving only a thin powdery dust, smelling of bird dung, disc brake powder, and diesel fumes. Oh wait, maybe they already have since the whole area smells like that now.

    These historical preservationists should be forced to walk their kids home from preschool under or on top of this bridge and tell their kid why it is worth saving in this configuration. Jerks.

    “We used to steal each others coats and give ‘em back as Christmas gifts … and that’s the way we liked it!”, I can hear them saying.

  2. Classy as always, Bray-Ali.

  3. El Sereno Resident

    I agree that the bridge should stay, the article mentions that there are other parts in the city that maintain the Electric Railway system, however NONE near the El Sereno Area of Huntington Drive. The article also states that in 2001 the bridge may have qualified for historic bridge restoration. but in 2002-2004 things changed. Let me be clear as to why this changed, DEVELOPERS ! as soon as the land across the street from the bridge started to be an attractive spot to continue to develop in El Sereno, the 100 complex unit “aka project style” it all of a sudden became a dangerous bridge. LETS BE CLEAR ABOUT SOMETHING. Had the development across the street not been built, we would have never been arguing over this bridge! WHO ALLOWED FOR A 100 UNIT COMPLEX To be built infront of this bridge knowing that its not pedestrian friendly and people in that complex would need to cross the street to school dangerously. THE POINT HERE IS THAT COUNCIL, DEVELOPERS Choose $$$$$ over safety at the cost of constituents of the area. LATER TO SAY It needs to be knocked down and claim its not safe. FOR THOSE READING? CAN you guess what the Market across the street will be in the near future an the surrounding area. MORE APARTMENTS COMPLEXES. Has the city planning or council of district nor recognized what responsible land use is. Here is an example of a good housing complex, the Senior Citizens home near El Sereno Park —- THATS RESPONSIBLE. Not th Seniror Citizens homes next to what is going to be the Dollars Store that was, “So called” Senior citizens home and now you see a sign calling for Section-8 applications. BE cautious of why this bridge is being knocked out. Ask the questions.

  4. Oh, I feel a classist tinge in that comment, Josef. Know that a significant portion of people that drive Huntington towards downtown are not from San Marino. Go look at the throngs of drivers coming from points east.. ie go sit at Rosemead and Huntington and see it’s crowded even there. Maybe San Marino’ans should complain about Arcadians/ San Gabrielino’s fouling their air for their pleasure…

    • Oh, it is so effete, twee, and classist of me to want the community I live in to not be a disgusting shit hole car shunt shoveling pollution and chaos into my life. Have you ever walked the god damned sidewalk on Soto St. to this bridge before with your little kid(s)? You have biked to walked to the bus stop under and around this tunnel into that hateful little corridor of Mission as it breaks away from Huntington and turns toward Broadway? Ridden through it late at night coming home from a family party, seen the number of dead pigeons crushed weekly in the streets? Wondered what is lurking behind the columns when you head to that now-open now-closed Rancho market?

      I make less than the poverty level wages. I live here. Bite me.

      • Oh, I’m not doubting the crappy-ness of it all .. nor disparaging your desire for things to be better.. actually, we need more people who give a darn, want things to be better, and actually get off their butt to do something about it.. so kudos to you on that front. No, I won’t bite you.

        My gripe was blaming it all on San Marinoans and their driving for their pleasure. Made it sound like you are bashing rich people.
        a) there’s a ton of other people, mostly not rich people, who drive thru that area
        b) most people don’t drive for pleasure… they drive out of necessity because they have to get somewhere.. like a job.

        I’m with you, in that we need to make other modes of transportation more viable, streets safer, more walkable, bikeable

        but the reality is that there’s alot of people who simply have to drive to make it all work.

  5. Oh, I feel a classist tinge in that comment, Josef. Know that a significant portion of people that drive Huntington towards downtown are not from San Marino. Go look at the throngs of drivers coming from points east .. ie go sit at Rosemead and Huntington and see it’s crowded even there. Maybe San Marino’ans should complain about Arcadians/ San Gabrielino’s fouling their air for their pleasure…

  6. That whole intersection is the very definition of a shitshow and the result of overcrowding and poor planning. Tear the sucker down

    • I agree, the area around and adjacent to the bridge should be cleaned up. The bridge again should be utilized as a part of a light rail route from Downtown to the east. At one time the trackage was four wide, fastest service and the busiest in the P. E. system. Tearing down the bridge will not result in a open area but instead a new bridge, maybe uglier cutting thru the community. Spend the money on fixing a El Sereno landmark and put it’s residents to work doing so.

  7. The bridge is a disaster and an empty canvas for nearby gang members. Do this community a favor and just tear it down!!

  8. I think there’s an event going on at the Soto/Huntington Street bridge in El Sereno today. Seems they are getting ready to demolish the bridge?

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