Perhaps the most notable landmark near where Riverside Drive turns sharply across the Los Angeles River is the Cypress Park Home Depot. But if architect Donald MacDonald has his way, this patch of no-mans land amid railroad tracks, roaring traffic and the concrete river embankment will become home to what he calls The Regional Museum for the Celebration of Mesoamerican Culture (map). If this already sounds like an ambitious or improbable idea, wait until you hear where the museum will actually be housed: under a fragment of a 1926 bridge that is a haven for taggers and homeless.
MacDonald, a San Francisco architect who specializes in bridges, came up with the Mesoamerican museum idea at the prompting of Councilman Ed Reyes as part of his commission to replace the Riverside Bridge. Much of the original bridge was actually destroyed during heavy flooding in 1927 and replaced in part with a metal truss structure that has been targeted for demolition. What remains of the original bridge is a Beaux-Arts-style viaduct on the west bank of the river that features a series of large arches, which are now obscured by pipes, fencing and tagging (photo below). The aging metal truss bridge that now crosses the river will be replaced by a new curving span but the concrete viaduct will remain. So, what to do with this leftover piece of classical Los Angeles architecture?
MacDonald said Reyes wanted part of the bridge replacement project to include some type of feature addressing Latino culture or history. MacDonald responded with his Mesoerican Museum, which would be underneath the viaduct, with parts of it topped by a tower of steel and glass. This showcase of Mesoamerican culture would serve as a counterpoint to the viaduct’s European design, said MacDonald. At the minimum, the museum could house a giant timeline comparing the progression of Mesoamerican and European cultures, he said.
MacDonald, who works in San Francisco, said he has not had time to present the plan to Reyes yet. However, MacDonald did make a presentation earlier this month before the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission. The commissioners didn’t say much either about the museum proposal, except for some expressing concern about parking.
There are of course many other issues that would still have to be worked out, including who would pay and operate the museum. But MacDonald is pressing ahead.
“It could become a real beacon and start to enhance that part of the city.“