Bridging a cultural gap along the Los Angeles River

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.

Image: DonaldMacDonaldArchitects


  1. Save FigRivBridge

    An artist has proposed and identical design and submitted to KCET’s competition and won an honorable mention:. http://www.kcet.org/socal/departures/nela/placemaking-competition/northeast-los-angeles-placemaking-competition-confluence-colonnade-parkway.html

  2. My proposal’s goal is create consensus. So, it’s heartening to hear that others also noticed the value of the now – buried Colonnade section of the old Figueroa/Riverside bridge.

    A key feature of my proposal is the additional of an arching cap to the end of the Colonnade that turns it into a teardrop-shaped sculptural form. With that addition and lighting at night, a fragment of LA architectural history will sing out as a destination for riverfront communities. Beyond symbolism, River Colonnade will create an acre of public green space, 2000 feet of new river path, and 22,000 square feet of architectural space that is collaborative with existing urban plans.

    I’m happy to report that early feasibility studies are promising. As we further develop this idea, I am very hopeful that local communities will come to understand how

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