Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Is it too late to save the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge?

Renderings show the old span (left) can remain intact under the shadow of the new bridge/RAC Design Build

Time is quickly running out for the old Riverside-Figueroa Bridge.  Demolition of the main part of the  L-shaped bridge, which is a combination of  steel and concrete structures built from the 1920s through the 1930s, is expected to begin next year as a new, concrete replacement bridge rises nearby.  But a few months before demo work begins, a proposal to save the bridge – said to be one of the last, steel-truss bridges to cross over the L.A. River – has emerged.  On Thursday, the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission voted to ask the city’s Bureau of Engineering to respond to a proposal by some Elysian Valley architects to put the demolition  on hold to see if the bridge, a city historic landmark, can be preserved and used for public space, perhaps in the form of an elevated park above the river.

“If there is a opportunity to retain it, we certainly want to consider it,” said commissioner  Tara Jones Hamacher. “There is no rush to demo the bridge.”

The last-minute proposal to retain the bridge is a long-shot, concedes Kevin Mulcahy, an architect with RAC Design Build in Elysian Valley. The demolition and replacement of the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge have been in the works for  years, with the project intended to create a new, wider span without the 90-degree bend in the middle that makes it tricky to maneuver.  Mulcahy and business partner Rick Cortez also don’t have any detailed plans about what to do with the old bridge.

But, at the very least, Mulcahy said that stopping or postponing demolition work to study the feasibility of alternative uses for the old bridge are worth it given the span’s history and location.

The bridge overlooks the confluence of the Los Angeles River and Arroyo Seco and it’s location could serve as a crossroads for bike and pedestrian pathways connecting Elysian Valley, downtown Los Angeles and Elysian Park.  In New York,  The High Line project turned train bridges running above the streets of Manhattan into elevated parks and public spaces. Why can’t the old Riverside-Figueroa bridge be saved to serve the same purpose, the architects ask.

“It’s a place to rest. It’s a place to view the river. It’s a place to picnic,” said Mulcahy of what he calls the Figueroa Landbridge.

Since city leaders approved plans for the new, curving bridge, the alignment of the new structure was changed in a way that it no longer overlaps with the old bridge, Mulcahy and Cortez said. In some cases, only four feet of clearance would separate the two bridges, but that’s enough room to keep both structures standing, the architects said.

The architects have met with the officials of the Bureau of Engineering, which oversees the bridge construction,  as well as with representatives for the local council offices.  While some city employees have responded enthusiastically, no agency or council office has come forward to support the idea of saving the bridge.

“We are still evaluating the merits of the proposed project and no decision has been reached,” said Tonya Durrell, a spokeswoman for the Board of Public Works.

Mulcahy said work on the new bridge can continue while the old bridge remains standing.  “If you hold on to the bridge,  then you preserve the opportunity” he said.

New Riverside-Figueroa bridge (left) under construction next to the old bridge (right)

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  1. This is a great idea! I’d imagine CMs O’Farrel and Cedillo, our new River advocates, would support it. Why not ask them to make a motion to pause demo and report back with preservation options.

    • At first this seems like a great idea. In fact, as President of our Neighborhood Council I wrote a strong letter of support. However, after digging into the details I think the proposal is misguided.

      First, you need to understand that the old bridge is actually 2 bridges: a beautiful and structurally sound colonnade from 1928 and a later 1939 set of additions that were cobbled together after a landslide in 1939. Despite the charm of the steel portion crossing the water , post 1939 is a structural and aesthetic mess that actually completely blocks view to the Arroyo Seco from the west. When the 1939 overhanging concrete is removed a large open space opens on the west that is as deep as 80′ . This open space has wonderful views and unique perspectives.

      All land-bridge proposal documents propose to use both the 1928 and 1939 parts of the old bridge. Instead, by removing the 1939 portions you create river’s edge open space with clear views to the confluence the sky in excess of what might be planted on top of the old bridge. Also, the colonnade from 1928 is beautiful and can usefully reused for open air market, gathering, art and performance. It might even be enclosed in one section into a building space.

      The big secret here is that most of the 1939 section of the bridge on the west was already demolished almost two years ago. The concrete sits on wood blocks and needs a complete rebuild, belying the idea that the land-bridge is a “re-use.”

      I suggest that our community should focus on creating good public use of the wonderful open space and that will open when the 1939 section of the old bridge is brought down. Both sides of the river can easily access this path via car, as well as new dedicated bike and pedestrian lanes on the new bridge.

  2. Is that a good location for a park? I think it’s pretty lousy. The only thing that’s cool about the old bridge is the concrete work and lamps. I say sell half of it to collectors, and use the money to move the other half to a park or something. Then old people could go to the park and talk about the bridge.

    Let’s recognize what’s infrastructure, and what’s ornament, and value each of those things. The more we recognize the value of ornament separate from infrastructure, the more we’ll be willing to spend on it as what it is: a bit of beauty to mask the horrors of modernity.

  3. It’s use as a portion of Route 66 at the only location in the nation where Route 66 crosses itself perpendicularly TWICE should be considered as part of its historical importance. Further improvements to the LA River and Arroyo Seco Channel at Confluence Park could make the use of this as extended park space quite interesting. I’d be very inclined to hear further ideas on this. (And as the father of a 3.5 year old son that loves trains, sitting on that bridge watching Route 66, Metrolink / Amtrak, and Gold Line all at one spot seems quite interesting and entertaining for us, especially so close to the only remaining vehicle tunnels anywhere along Route 66!)

  4. Park benches, facing the 5/110 interchange. Magical.

  5. Interesting alternate use! I have seen this work in NY and want to hear more. I favor delaying demolition to afford the community a say. I’d love to see RAC put a design forward for our further appreciation and consideration.

  6. Is the replacement being motivated by any sort of structural problems of the old one? If it’s seismically unsafe, it’s actually worse as a park than as a road, since a park often has a lot of people on it, while a road is limited in the number of people that can be unsafe, just by the size of cars.

    On the other hand, if there’s no danger presented by the existence of the old bridge, I can’t think of what other reason there would be to go ahead and spend all the money to dismantle it.

  7. Love this idea! I have fond memories walking over the bridge with my cousins and parents to go shopping in Lincoln Heights or grab a donut over the bridge.

  8. I LOVE the idea. What a great opportunity for the neighborhood. The more parks the better, even if it does overlook the 5fwy and the train yard, this is LA afterall!

  9. These are the ideas that make a place special. Fingers crossed!!

  10. This is a neat idea for hanging onto a historic span with a creative re-use. But the name “Figueroa Landbridge” lacks a certain snap. “Frogtown High Line,” on the other hand–who wouldn’t get behind that?

  11. Excellent idea!

    It would be nice to incorporate a continuation of the river bike path too! Also, it could include a community garden. Probably cheaper than the cost of demolition.

  12. Great idea to pause demo to see if something great can be done. If I were more creative, I’d have something to suggest.

  13. this idea is nothing like the Highline and it could never be like the Highline. This bridge is completely isolated. As others have posted earlier, this location is surrounded by noisy and filthy freeways. the view from there is awful. converting this bridge to a park is a really bad idea. the eastsider blog shouldn’t waste space and feature this proposal, and the people that are in favor of it give liberals a bad name.

    • Beamdog, the view from the bridge has the quintessential LA River – Arroyo Seco overlook of their confluence along with dynamic bridges and bluffs of Elysian Park . It is one of my favorite views in LA. As time goes on, the pollution from vehicular traffic will lesson with hybrids and electric cars becoming more prevalent. It will be a fantastic connection and asset to the community of Elysian Valley and Glassell Park. Not sure how liberals are ruining their reputations by thinking ahead, saving a historic structure and not filling the landfills with tons of debris from a demolition.

      • okay DP4ME, this is one of your favorite views? well then, let’s take a look at it.
        below is a link to google maps street view of that very place. (i forgot all about the beautiful power lines)


        dude, you need to get out more often. there are lots of better views in LA.

        • I guess we all see beauty in different ways. The ocean is lovely, the San Gabriel Mountains are too. There is also beauty in the urbane. Your Google view confirmed that for me! I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

  14. This could be a great park where concerts and outdoor movies could be shown on summer nights. I think this is the sort of stuff that will make LA unique. Why replicate what other cities have when we have a baby of a city that we can help to mold in a way that encourages neighbors to befriend neighbors? I love the idea of having a “rest stop” after cycling from Griffith Park to downtown (once the path connects) and have ample space for people to enjoy the many sights of this area. I can see a group of people watching a film on 4th of July while the Dodger fireworks explode above. That would be something!

  15. Making this bridge into something special would be really good for the community. Not only would it bring people in to experience something different and unique, it would be great for those of us who live here already. It connects to the the beginnings of Confluence Park – currently just a fancy fountain, it’s right next to the LA river bike path, and, as has been pointed out, it looks onto the Elysian Valley hills. Those commenting about how awful the location is obviously don’t live here, but thanks for the judgement and dismissal. It’s a cool opportunity to do something unique. Not sure why or how that hurts any of you.

    Also, I just want to point out, the terribly dangerous 110 is allowed to stay the way it is because it is a supposed historical landmark. If we are going to save historical traffic landmarks, doesn’t it make more sense to turn a beautiful old bridge into a park than allow a deadly freeway to continue functioning?

  16. I enjoy that bike route a lot I think its a great idea to keep it as a foot bridge and bike path, as for selling it off the demo cost would negate any sort of roi so that idea is really stupid @ john typical comment of some idiot who has never truly though out any thing past his super sized meal at chump donalds!

  17. preservation patriot

    Cypress Parkers need to have a place like this, and Gil Cedillo needs to help us get it. The first Los Angeles concept of this type,in one of the more forgotten NELA communities. It really is a no-brainer. Isn’t recycling a big deal with the city? Isn’t recycling the bridge the highest form of this? Time to wake up your council member. You may want to give Garcetti a shake,too.

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