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.