The Demolition of the Sixth Street Bridge Began at Night

The end of an era comes to the eastside.

Looking through the first hole in deck of the classic Sixth Street Bridge.

Looking through the first hole in deck of the classic Sixth Street Bridge.

On the night of February 5, 2016 the demolition of the classic Sixth Street Bridge in Los Angeles began. And on that night I was there firsthand to capture this tragic point in our history.

Long had I been given notice to the people of Boyle Heights of its impending destruction, giving warnings as though the sky was falling for years. However, the realness of it all would not hit me until that night. As I looked through the dust and the sparks, to see great machines plunging holes and flooding light though the deck of the bridge; all over head as I witness this demolition of this most beloved landmark.

It was a night I will always remember and be haunted by.

See the full video below:

The Sixth Street Bridge has played a dual role here in our community; as a symbolic guardian to my native eastside, and also as a connecting point to launch our residents into society beyond the barriers of the barrio. They have served generations of ethnic minorities and working-class people of East Los Angeles, and therefore have played a profound role in our narratives.

And so much has this one bridge played a role in my own life story, that I have been compelled to be there each step of the way. As this beloved landmark met its demise.

Though a symbolic “groundbreaking” for the project had taken place a year prior, the project was already a year-and-a-half behind schedule on the demolition itself. And the demolition date was further pushed back and forth several times in the final weeks, before once again being delayed and then quickly rescheduled for that weekend.

The upcoming demolition of the Sixth Street Viaduct was the big news topic, and all anyone could talk about for a couple of weeks. When I arrived early in the afternoon, all the local new media was already set-up over the top of the freeway at the eastern end of the viaduct, near Whittier and Boyle.

As I was going about taking some final pictures and video of the still intact bridge throughout that area, I was asked to be interviewed by a TV reporter from ABC channel 7.

In recent years shut downs of major southland freeways such as the 405 or 101 had been popularly given names. Named like natural disasters such as hurricanes; names like Carmageddon and Jamzilla. This event would be preemptively titled by the city council as the “LA Slowjam.” Announced in what the media called a “dork-cool” video by Mayor Eric Garcetti, jamming with a band from Rosevelt High Schooli.

The Slowjam, a 48-hour period which would disrupt the traffic around the 101-Hollywood and the Santa Monica-10, forcing traffic to divert to the Golden State-5 and the 60-San Bernardino Freeways. Leaving traffic slow and the roads jammed all weekend long.

smileslowjamThe reporter asked me about this: “Have you heard what they are calling this one?”

“Oh yes, the Slowjam, it makes it sound like it’s a golden oldies weekend.” I say with amusement. Though I do make the point to then soberly interject, “You know, but really its kind of the end of the golden oldies for some of us on this side of town.”

Only hinting at the ominous nature of the drastic change taking place around here.

As I continued to linger into the evening capturing photographs and filming the viaduct, I struck up conversation with the demolition crew. They advised me of the general play-book and timetable for the demolition, helping me to plan out where to best capture it from.

It seemed that the best location would be from Clarence Street, just on the eastern edge of the freeway-interchange. I wanted to get a look at this area before it was ripped up. So in the final glow of the evening, I walked through there. Before making my way back to the neighborhood. [See the footage of this area before the demolition began: “Sixth Street Viaduct, before demolition began.”]

For the next few hours I was able to linger with my friends, who had long since taken up residence at the art installation of Boyle Henge at Boyle and Whitier Blvd. Near the top of the demolition site. We would exchange stories of the good old days and share a few beers there, before Zero and Illyria would head back home.

While I would make my way back to the bottom of the demolition site, joined by our friend Squared. And we would wait in vigil for the demolition to begin.

The 101/10 Freeway ramp at 4th Street and Pecan. The freeway was eerie and without any traffic, but that didn't stop people from playing there while it was shut down.

The 101/10 Freeway ramp at 4th Street and Pecan. The freeway was eerie and without any traffic, but that didn’t stop people from playing there while it was shut down.

And as we made our way back it was just astounding to see the freeways begin to close. As these massive highways begin to empty and grow silent. This was too amazing to pass up. Entering in through the Pecan Street freeway on-ramp, we would find ourselves running and playing tag on the freeway. It was almost surreal.

However, this cessation to traffic also meant that the demolition could now begin at any time. And all the demolition machines began to align themselves into place. So we began to rush back to the area of the bridge.

Arriving in the flats around through Pico Gardens – the housing projects up against this demolition and rebuild project – you could see the residents peeking out in annoyed curiosity. And understandably considering they would find themselves up against this construction project for the next four and a half years. Hearing it, breathing it.

I waved to them and said a little prayer for these families as I made my way by.

By this time Clarence had been shut down where the bridge spanned over it, making us take a familiar detour down and through my old stomping grounds on Anderson St.

Now this area already looked like a destruction site for some time. Months before the Jewish food and kosher wine distributors had been displaced from here. And now the site of what was once the Teva Foods, it had now become the base of operation for the demolition.

And this is where my footage of the demolition begins. At the gates of the demolition site.

When I arrived the demo crew was busily rushing about. And crews of classic car cruisers were lingering nearby the gate. The workers seemed surprised at the sight of nostalgic spectators, curiously waiting.

Waiting for damage. And we would certainly witness damage that night.

As it was explained to me by the demolition crew earlier, the demo needed to begin with knocking out the concrete sides and sidewalks. Then banging through the concrete decking of the bridge with machines from atop of the bridge. And then finally banging out the rest of the bridge from below. Breaking it down to the bare pillars.

As the crew started to lock the gate to begin their work, we started to make our way to the spot I had chosen to record. Making my way down Anderson to Jessie Street, to come around to Clarence Street.

And as we turned the corner, the real pounding of the demolition began. The first clouds of dust from the demolition began to kick into the air. And as the breaking sounds made by the demolition machines began to reverberate, channeled down the corridor of Jesse Street.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
Crumble. Shatter. Clatter. Bang. Bang. Bang.

And at that point I just couldn’t help but cry out in complete shock and amazement.

And I wasn’t the only person to be caught aghast in the terribly awesome sight of it all.

Even the police officers who were patrolling this night, stood in total awe. Looking up, transfixed at the sight of this calamity. For the longest time, standing completely still in the shifting light of the destruction. Several photographers would beautifully capture this moment of astonishment and wonderment.

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As I arrived at our chosen spot on Clarence Street – almost directly under the spans of the bridge being demolished this night – there were quite a few more people who had come out to witness and photograph this. Several local residents I recognized, trying to get a few good shots of it on film.

Even some of the workers from the wholesale produce facilities on the block, they began coming out to watch too.

And so for the longest time we all stood there just watching. Some standing there in complete silence.

As the night was drenched in flood lights and fierce sounds. Sounds of banging and clattering filled the air, causing the very air around me to vibrate and pulse with every blow of those great machines.As they pounded away at the concrete, and as they cut at the metal reinforcements revealed beneath it. Sending both dust and sparks into the air, which they battled with huge streams of water which kept sweeping over the sides of the now crumbling bridge.

And as the bridge began to break apart, I could see the first breaks of emotion on so many people’s faces. And their shock as we watched the machines knock over some of the remaining art deco light standards, sending them tumbling down with a metal clank and a pitiful crash.

At this point most people began to leave. They had enough of all this destruction.

Though we would remain with a handful of people for hours to come. The demolition had begun shortly after midnight. And it would take a few hours for them to break through the deck of the bridge.

And it would not be until they actually broke through the decks of the bridge that I would really begin to accept the reality of it all. When I could see the light shinning through the bottom of the old bridge. and those monstrous machines clawing through.

When I found myself right up against the very pillars of the doomed bridge, staring up and through the growing hole in the deck of the bridge. With concrete dust and sparks of metal flying in my face. Still as a couple of guys and I continued to inch as close as we could. Until we could no longer breathe from all the falling dust. Sending us retreating and gasping for air.

Now as bridge began to crumble, debris from the structure above began to fall severely towards the freeway below it. The surface of which had been covered with huge mounds of dirt in order to absorb the impact of the pieces of falling bridge. Saving the surface of the freeway itself from damage.

Once the upper deck of the bridge was throughly smashed apart, the demolition machines began to ascend the dirt mounds in order to demolish the bridge from the side.

At this time we began to make our way back the way which we had come.

Shmu at the demolition of the Sixth Street Bridge

Shmu at the first night of demolition of the Sixth Street Bridge.

Now once we swung around to Clarence and 6th Streets, we could see the machines smashing their way through the side of the bridge. Like mechanical titans, these massive machines relentlessly pounding a massive cavity through the concrete until everything around it gave way. Then screamingly cutting through and pulling apart the metal frame within.

We stood there for some time watching these teams of machines rip through the bridge, smashing from north to south. As the demolition swarmed directly over the East LA interchange.

We stayed there somberly watching until around 4:30am. Until the machines started to break all the way through the structure, bisecting the bridge. Then we would back our way out of the Flats the way we came.

Around that the time we were ending our nighttime vigil, Zero would be making his way to the bridge to witness the dramatic sight. In the pre-dawn hours before the city began to stir awake to the reality of the broken skyline. He would be interviewed by KNX 1070. Recounting his own memories of the Sixth Street Bridge and his difficulty to comprehend this destruction. His delusional sense of its permanence, meeting with the harsh reality of its demolition.

And so it was that we would leave the site of the demolition early Saturday morning. Covered in a layer of concrete dust and with pieces from the bridge in my hair. And emotionally shaken to my very core, I just couldn’t watch anymore.

The demolitions crews and their heavy machines would continue their demolition there another day still. Knocking down the entire spans of the bridge over the freeways. Then breaking apart the art deco themed entrance of the old bridge, smashing the pillar monoliths which stood there. And clearing the rubbish, to reopen traffic.

The “Slowjam” would end ahead of schedule, with traffic resuming on Sunday afternoon. Leaving a post-apocalyptic sight on the skyline and surrounding the East Los Angeles Interchange.

Though some time has passed since this event, it has taken a great deal of time for me to really emotionally work through it all. I just haven’t had enough words to describe the sights, sounds and the feelings which were dug-up that night.

And it has also been a near full-time task, keeping up with documenting the massive demolition project. And keeping record of the changes which are coming to the vicinity surrounding the demotion-rebuild of the Sixth Street Viaduct.

This was just the first blow.

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