The Day the Sixth Street Bridge Closed

The emotions that hung in the air the morning after

01-27-2016-sixth-street-bridge-workers-2We awoke to the next day, hung-over in our bitterness from the events of the night before. The morning was met with gloom, yet the breaking day felt harsh. Like someone had turned the white way up on a TV screen.

Nonetheless, we got our asses up to make our way back to the site of the Sixth Street Bridge. We had lost our chance to return to the bridge that last night because of the disruption and the resulting police sweep. Though there was the promise of a final walk with our city council member planned for the morning.

As we made our way off the block and on to Whittier Blvd, the reality of how complex this day was going to be really set in. The morning traffic we immediately noticeable.

Traffic stayed pretty much stalled as far back as Euclid. We rushed as we walked passed the frustrated commuters heading west towards downtown. It seemed that we made down the boulevard by foot faster than the people in their cars.

I was expecting this. All this traffic.

And was the city, because they called in traffic guards to direct the traffic at Boyle Ave. Diverting traffic that would usually pass over the Sixth Street Bridge to the other adjacent viaducts, the Seventh Street and the Fourth Street viaducts.

What I wasn’t necessarily expecting was to see the pedestrian senior citizens staring westward. Staring at the newly erected concrete barriers and chain link fences, placed just before the art deco pillars of the bridge entrance and the on-ramp to the 101-freeway’s northbound entrance.

I don’t know why it hadn’t really occurred to me that the final walk on the Sixth Street Bridge would be only be allowed from the Art’s District end.

Though when I saw the awe and confusion on the faces of elders here on the Boyle Heights end, that really captured my attention and concern. And I really forgot about everything else. I just wanted to be there with my people as they expressed both their awe and their disappointment.

So for a while I stood around talking to the other residents.

Some just stared towards the barriers. Others stood about complaining about a community that was changing far quicker than any of them had ever imagined.

And as we lingered there the corner of Whittier and Boyle seemed to attract even more people to the site like the aftermath of some calamity. And that’s exactly how it felt at this intersection, In the shadow the charred debris of the laundromat and Domino’s pizza.

An older lady sat at a bus stop for which a bus would never come. And the old guys chatted amongst each other and shook their heads in disappointment.

Emotions had already been high at this corner ever since the strip-mall went up in flames. Destroying the corner laundromat and a Domino’s Pizza location.

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The corner of Whittier Blvd and Boyle was already torn-up like an open wound, after a fire ripped through the strip-mall just a few weeks before the bridge closure.

Given the long history of property investors wanting to redevelop this corner and the fact that this fire happened just coincidently right before the bridge was closed for years.

These businesses had promised to stay open through the construction, even though many wondered how this was sustainable considering that they would be loosing vital traffic for years. Then this happened less than three weeks before the bridge closure.

So hanging in the air there were wild rumors of transa; conspiracy. Some throughly convinced the businesses were torched for insurance money, while others insisted it was to make a clean slate for development around the area of new bridge project.

I just listened as people as they let out their fears and anxieties, over what was happening to a town which had been pretty much unchanged for so long.

“You know, they have been trying to develop that corner with condos for years,” one of the older men tells me. Explaining that ever since the late 1970s developers hoped to take advantage of various propositions and ballot initiatives in order to change that whole side of the street, Starting with eliminating that retail strip. He wondered if this would now open the way for huge housing changes at this corner, at the entrance to the new Sixth Street bridge.

Now this corner was as ripped-up as an open wound. It’s hard to just dismiss the panic and confusion about. And the bitterness.

The television news media had set up in the middle of the street and began reporting.

The locals tried to get me to talk to the media. Which I had lost patience with, as they mostly wanted to just talk about the sense of excitement over a new bridge that wasn’t widely felt here among us here.

At one point I actually had a cold interview with the Univision reporter. When I began to speak about how the eastside was still being neglected in the plans for cultural and artistic redevelopment features in this new project. She insisted such features would certainly be included. I asked her to cite her sources and point in the plans to plan where these items were being represented. She said that she had heard and “just knew it was going to be done,” then ended the interview abruptly with a bitter face.

From that point on, I had enough of the media for the day. And for that reason did everything to avoid them as I continued to linger about the viaduct.

As everyone else made their way to work or back to their homes, I continued to explore. And eventually made my way over to the westside of the river, and over into the downtown Arts District.

Now you can come along with me for that experience in this video here:

The barriers were just as imposing on the western side of the bridge. And their presence was just as stark. Just as shocking to behold at first.

I was glad to at least run into some of our homeless friends, people we have met who have lived on and around the bridge for years. We have been really worried about what is going to happen to them.

As I made my way around the underside of the bridge I happened to stumble upon a press conference with the city and project officials, which was closed to the public.

Just then someone had motioned for me to follow her in, wanting to help me pass myself off as part of the junket. Though I resisted the urge, knowing I was the last guy these suits wanted in there for their exciting milestone media spread (especially after my last appearance at their press conference).

As you see in the video, I ended up talking to one of the photographers as I made my way over to the riverbed.

Notice the conversation we had. Why does the eastside need anything additional planned for our side? Why is the development in the Arts District not enough and why can’t we just go there instead? So I do find that I have to make the case that we have our own cultural identity and local heritage.

Though when I point to how many of the plans for redevelopment and in the end never fully follow through. Leaving whole areas in blight. Now that he could agree with, you could hear him reply in the background, as we parted ways.

As the press conference dispersed, I found that a few of the artistic and cultural community liaisons connected to city hall were out and about to capture some pictures on the riverbed.

So interestingly, after grabbing their attention I spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening trying to push the idea of a Boyle Heights heritage and cultural arts corridor to these very establishment people, who just didn’t know what the facts and sentiments were of the everyday people in the barrio.

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Sixth Street Bridge: The Last Day at the Bridge

The events of the final day on the bridge

There are certain days which come with excitement, and some approach with dread. And this day came with a great sense of both. Long had we been awaiting the final closure of traffic to the historic Sixth Street Bridge, and these were our few and precious final hours.

When I arrived at the viaduct the morning was already turning to bright noon. Without a hint of winter, the sun as strong and warm as a summer day.

The crew was already at the bridge, standing at Nowhere when I arrived. Along with them they had brought the silly plastic mascot of Boyle Henge, “Hedgie the Snowman.”

The bridge was already starting to buzz with photographers and news media. And people walking back and forth in order to capture a few final memories and connect with history. Many people coming out to pay their respects to this glorious landmark.

As we were standing there just communing with the bridge we were cheerfully approached by Merrill Butler III and his wife, he is the grandson of the designer and builder of the viaducts; including this very bridge here.

Merrill and his lovely wife spent a great deal of time hanging out on the bridge with us, and sharing their family stories regarding this place. It was a rare moment to receive and share some deep personal history. We also got to toss around ideas on how to preserve the history of this place.

One of his finest ideas on how to maintain our connection to the old bridge we all love so much, was when he personally suggested to the city planners that they preserve one of the original metal arches and some of the decorative light posts from the classic Sixth Street Bridge. For setting down in the area of a future park below the future bridge.

As we spoke you could actually see work crews all around us painting primer on the items which were being selected for later removal. For which he also noted that the two bridge dedication plaques had already been removed. The eastside plaque being stolen by vandals. Something which stings for Merrill, as his grandfather’s name was honored on that piece of the old landmark. While luckily the westside plaque was then removed for safe keeping, and is now kept in storage for future display.

[Also, it should be noted that he was totally amused to hear that it was our crew who were responsible for placing the photocopy of the plaque in its vacant spot after it was removed! He and his wife had noticed it when they passed by and were touched we remembered it.]

Merrill then explained how he is also going to be opening up his own art gallery in the Boyle Heights flats below, on the eastside of the river near Mission and Jessie streets. Re-purposing the buildings of old food and cold storage facilities which have recently called it quits. In an area where several notable and trendy art galleries have already opened up. [More about that later; as I hope to get to interview him soon and let him tell you in his words about his plans and vision.]

He also carefully listened to my concerns about how the vicinity of the bridge corridor in Boyle Heights is being carved apart for the new viaduct project, while in the end getting really none of the programmable cultural and artistic space which they had promised for both sides of the bridge, and thus far only delivering on the newly gentrified Art’s District side of this bridge project. And he offered us some great ideas for future programmable space, while making inspiring use of historically reclaimed materials as he does. And how to possibly attract interest in historic and cultural preservation here.

To say the least, the meeting was something which awed me both as local geek and as a historian! And also gave me a lot to think about, as I face these tides of community change and try to secure the best outcome for our homegrown eastsiders.

Now in the span of our hanging out the steady increase in the number of sightseers and brought out an unusually tense presence of the LAPD. Which at one point started to get all snappy with our crew for no reason, for which Merrill asked the cops to take it easy and leave us be because we were cool, before departing himself.

Though as the crowd grew it became clear that the police, which normally ignored this area and shirk at patrolling the top of this bridge, were today going to be relentless. As their sense of cautiousness became soured by their bitter resentment of being tasked with maintain order here.

Sadly, the repeating theme of the day was that of the police making a huge scene all for one person.

The following video I took about two hours before the sweep and posted to Facebook on a shaky mobile connection:

No doubt there was a party-like atmosphere to the entire afternoon and evening. And there most certainly was an ecstatic sense of festivity and also chaos. As a mass of locals and tourists descended on the entire viaduct.

The bridge became covered with a steady stream of car cruising and pedestrians. Taggers and photographers. Cars racing and spinning in the riverbed. The sky overhead constantly buzzing with helicopters.

And in these final evening rays spent at this most important spot to us, everything seemed to culminate into one overwhelming sense of how special this moment was. And also triggering this cruel sense of imminent loss and gnawing uncertainty for the future.

As the day turned to night, we continued to congregate. With each minute the excitement rising.

So how did it end? How did we end our final night on the bridge?

After all these years of dedication to maintaining our spot on the bridge and also being the fiercest demonstrators for the historical preservation of the viaduct, people wondered how we would walk away from this. I certainly know that most people expected me to chain myself to the bridge, refusing to leave.

In reality we ended up leaving the bridge just an hour and a half before the police sweep, of our own accord.

With crowds of people swarming in from both east and west, the atmosphere quickly became unruly. Sometime after sunset my parka jacket had caught on fire, a casualty of the ruckus of people and fire-spinning (don’t worry Chris, I patched it up buddy!). And still it seemed like nothing would put a damper on our closing night celebrations.

So it was a total shocker to me when in the middle of me doing some broadcast interviews, my friends picked-up from our spot and started walking back home towards the eastside. Startled to see them go, I quickly broke away and followed after them in concern.

When I caught up with them they explained that some westside hipsters started getting aggressive, with some outside revelers wanting to pick fights with them. Instead of resorting to violence, they had decided to leave.

So it was decided to regroup and grab more beer, and come back.

Though I was very reluctant to leave, I wanted us to be together for this last night. I began leaving the bridge while vowing to return when things had slowed down a bit. Wanting to have a more intimate farewell. Though it was clear to everyone that I was nervous this might actually be my last chance on the bridge.

As we walked back towards Boyle Heights, there was a sense of numb shock that came over me. And a painful grating felt inside caused by the rising sounds of both tense crowds and swarming police which rose from all round the viaduct.

And then for moment I stopped and took a moment to step back a few steps, and like Lot’s wife I looked back and stood their just paralyzed in my desperate attempt to take it all in one more time.

These are the final image taken from the bridge. One of my final moment of awe being captured by Zero. And the other, my last photo taken from the entrance of the bridge.

As we walked back home via Whittier Blvd my agitation grew, as something was very wrong at the bridge. I had never seen anything like it. And a few times I stopped and contemplated going back immediately.

Though by the time we arrived at the house, it was already all over the TV news. And people were messaging me to make sure that I was safe. Because something was already going down at the bridge.

It turned out that the crowds were stopping traffic on the bridge near the eastern set of the arches. The crowd was being asked to disperse by a police officer. At some point one police officer inexplicably grabs for the skateboard of a girl named Lydia. She grabs her skateboard and pulls it back to keep hold of it, with the officer lunging to grab it from her. She began to resist, and was taken down to the grown and arrested. All of which resulted in the crowd crying foul over this and groaning.

It was reported that the LAPD police officer felt threatened by the crowd and called for back-up. The backup arrive with the police coming in shoulder to shoulder, and both from the top and streets under the bridge, my local friends who did linger were dispersed by police holding the position of a skirmish line; brandishing batons and rifles.

The bridge was thus officially closed to all traffic at around 9pm on January 26th, 2016 by police in riot formation.

So I never did make it back to the top of the bridge to actually pay my final respects; something which left many unresolved feelings for me.

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The Final Days of Gatherings at the Sixth Street Bridge

The crowds start to grow around the viaduct

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Car clubs. photographers and fanatics at the Sixth Street Bridge to capture some memories.

The bridge was supposed to have closed right after the New Year’s holiday weekend. Luckily for us, the project has still been lagging. Giving us a few more weeks with our condemned landmark.

As the project has been pushing dates back and back, no one is exactly sure when the demolition process will really start. Though with the date quickly approaching for the bridge’s permanent closure to traffic, people have been coming out in large numbers to capture a few final pictures. With the largest crowds coming around sunset.

Though the daytime exploits have also been really exciting too. Watching as many classic cars and lowriders have been coming out for some final rides. Though to be honest, many of them are just here for some final pictures too. With many guys even bringing out their absolutely finest cars on flatbeds, and not even riding them. Just to get a few good shots from this classic bridge.

And as the evenings turns to dusk it has even become common for everyday motorists to stop their car in the middle of the bridge and start snapping off pictures, standing halfway from their doors to capture the downtown horizon.

This is what can upset the police the most, the stopping of traffic. That is right up there with people climbing the arches.

Now climbing the arches was a pretty rare thing until the past year or two. It all started happening a while back after people started posting their arch-top pictures on Instagram, which went viral. After that a steady stream of urban explorers and hipsters started coming to capture the experience for themselves.

The problem is that people do get stuck up there occasionally and have been found stuck hanging on top of this main traffic artery. So the police do sometimes come and shut down traffic in both directions while they get them down and ticket them.

All of the while for our the locals, who are trying to get to and from the places of their busy lives, are they stopped dead in traffic on the bridge. Tired, exacerbated and cursing motorists stuck behind the wheel.

However, for the most part it has been pretty orderly around here. With car clubs and scooter crews having their fun on the bridge, with their presence well-coordinated and not really impacting traffic too much.

The car clubs have been pretty good about coordinating their rides and directing traffic, even if they are stopping traffic. Often the clubs having members temporarily get out and stop traffic for both lanes in order to get their make their procession and grab their photo ops. Then quickly restoring the flow of traffic without incident.

It has been wonderful seeing how the Whittier Blvd cruise clubs, which was only really revived the old classic cruise route last year, have been coming out in full force.

Even the scoots come out for a lasts ride

Also most interestingly, during our last days we also encountered the Hive Crew scooter club of East Los Angeles. This local scoot club was also started just last year in 2015.

Hive Crew Los Angeles, Sixth Street Bridge (Photo credit by: Zero Renton)

Hive Crew Los Angeles, Sixth Street Bridge (Photo credit by: Zero Renton)

As I approached the bridge I just had to put down my six-pack of Guinness and start to record these guys riding their Vespas together in group, riding back and forth over the bridge. And occasional stopping to line up at the arches.

As the day grew later and as the lowriders started coming out in larger numbers, it became harder for both the lowriders and the scooter club to keep flow.

Now as both a big fan of both the scooter and the lowrider subcultures, it was amazing to see both of these worlds collide for me, and to see them rub elbows with each other!


Update: Recently I was checking out the Hive Crew website and saw this amazing picture captured from this same event as the video above. Right between their helmets and the words Los Angeles here, you can see my skinny ass in the distance!

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Screen capture from the Hive Crew website.

I encourage everyone to support this local club and encourage scoot culture in our area, by coming out for their Swarm LA Scooter Rally the weekend of July 15-17, 2016 and by 0rdering one of their rally packs.


The spot called “Nowhere” on the Sixth Street Bridge

In the video featured in the last post you hear Squared telling me “they are up there” during the recording, referring to some of our friends who up at our spot on top of the bridge. All while he and I are still lingering below, before going up to the topside of the bridge ourselves. So let me tell you a little bit about it.

The choicest spot on the classic Sixth Street Bridge has always been the northwest observation point: a spot called “Nowhere.” For the past few years it the favorite spot for my circle of friends to hang out at.

The spot we call "Nowhere."

The spot we call “Nowhere.”

You can follow several paths to how the name came to be… and Zero most certainly does. Though the name has stuck because of one reality; the bridge is nether here nor there. It’s nowhere.

You see this spot where we congregate, high upon the bridge and just to side of it’s western arches is the exact point were this classic bridge transitions from downtown’s Sixth Street to the eastside’s Whittier Blvd. So this spot, it seems nether here nor there.

And this is especially true in the way that this spot has long been regarded by the city and police. Being located right in between to LAPD stations, Downtown Central and Hollenbeck, with the midpoint of the bridge being considered the division. Resulting in the top of this bridge being generally neglected by both. Each insisting they shouldn’t have to cross.

20160124_203549A reality which know all too well after often finding it near impossible to describe this place to the 911 emergency responders after accidents and crashes, because of the lack of a defining address.

This spot is nowhere.

And I guess some of these reasons also explain as to why my friends and I have gone mostly undisturbed in our years of occupying this spot.

And so day after day, evening after evening, we have made this place our destination. Here telling stories, listening to music, drink beer and blazing the hours away. Observing how the bridge seems to have a culture all of its own.

Now we really don’t know what we are going to do without it.


Here are some old videos we have taken at this place which is most special to us.

Believe it or not, I don’t have as many videos with them on camera as you would expect. They seem to be camera shy. Or more precisely, they shy away from a camera which they aren’t holding. Very Penelope Spheeris of them. LOL


See a related blog by my friend Zero-Renton Prefect, titled “Tales from Nowhere.

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