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Giant retaining walls going up along Sunset Boulevard’s crumbling slopes

Rendering of the future retaining wall | L.A. Bureau of Engineering

By BARRY LANK

Plans to build towering retaining walls along Sunset Boulevard on the border of Echo Park and Silver Lake are becoming more concrete – literally.

The city is putting up the approximately 200-foot-long concrete walls along Sunset between Coronado Terrace and Waterloo Street to stabilize sandstone slopes that have been a problem for more than a hundred years.

“The project will stabilize the slope by constructing a soil nail retaining wall,” said Mary Nemick, from the city’s Bureau of Engineering. She was referring to a technique in which thin reinforcing elements – rebar, for example – are inserted into a slope to keep it stable.

“The wall is an architecturally designed shotcrete wall with alternating hatching and vine pockets at the top.” “Shotcrete” is concrete sprayed out of a hose.

Expected cost of construction: $1,744,366.

All this is necessary because, back in the late 1880s, a grading contractor named E.C. Burlingame did a really lousy job cutting a channel through the hills. He made the cuts very steep – a technique that, according to the American Railway Engineers Handbook of 1901, works only “in hard rock that will not disintegrate by exposure.”

Sandstone doesn’t exactly qualify. So the slopes have been periodically crumbling and partially collapsing ever since — especially after heavy or not so heavy rains.

The new walls will be about 35 feet high, Nemick said. Work is underway now, and is scheduled to finish by July 2019.

Sunset Boulevard retaining wall

Preparing for new retaining walls

3 comments

  1. Burlingame, the contractor who originally made this cut through the hill, did so without permission from the farmer who owned the land. He decided he could make money on extending the Boulevard, and so … just cut through another man’s land. The farmer took him to court, and as I understand it, won big damages.

    This shotcrete wall is really the only way to save the hillsides. Glad it will also support vegetation.

  2. Public Works project gettin 1000% approval..In quite quassi bureaucracy..Erosion has always been present & deteriorating occupied land..Why the Sudden fast acting Approach…Oh maybe new Inhabitants greater Median income or Just. The right people barking up these City Councimembers….Sick n tired of this Double Standard…

  3. I’m not sure what Nelson has stuck in his craw, but it’s patently absurd to call this a “sudden fast acting approach.” As reported in the linked article from 2011, these cliffs have been crumbling since almost as soon as they were finished in the late 1880s. In 2010 a 20-foot-long chunk of cliff fell onto the sidewalk and street below. If someone had been walking (or sleeping, as many homeless camp there) on the sidewalk below at that moment, they would have been instantly killed. I am a frequent pedestrian through this stretch of Sunset and am very familiar with the severity of the erosion there. The cliffs cannot deteriorate much further than they already have without severely threatening a collapse of the street above — Coronado Terrace — as well as the houses between Coronado and Waterloo. And the homeowners aren’t the only ones endangered: Sunset Blvd. is the primary thoroughfare (after the 101) between Echo Park and Silverlake. A collapse during rush-hour or Dodger traffic could easily injure/kill a half-dozen or more people. The fact that, after 130 years of knowing about the problem, the city is finally taking action to remedy it is the minimum that we should expect of any functioning municipal government, regardless of the income of the inhabitants.

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