The Shattered Sixth Street Bridge

Sitting on one of the broken stumps of the art deco pillars that once graced the eastern end of the classic Sixth Street Bridge.

Sitting on one of the broken stumps of the art deco pillars that once graced the eastern end of the classic Sixth Street Bridge.

At the eastern entrance of the classic Sixth Street Bridge there used to be two huge monoliths standing mightily like sentries at the gates of the city, at the point where the expanse of the bridge began its extension from the bluffs of Boyle Heights and jetting towards downtown Los Angeles.

These two matching pillars which stood there, they were part of ornamental walkways built into the structure. They were key elements of the art deco-streamline modernist style of the bridge. Wrapping around the sides of both of these pillars were long abandoned stairways which once lead to the both industrial and residential areas on the eastern bank of the river known as the Boyle Heights Flats.

shmustairsfreewayEventually these public stairways would be closed when the first primitive highway routes pushed through here decades ago.

And eventually these artistic features of the bridge would come to sit in the middle of the East Los Angeles Interchange, an intertwining network of freeways which would be built through our neighborhood two generations ago.

Which means they were visible to bridge traffic, and also to the freeway traffic which ran past and through the bridge. For us eastside kids these monoliths had always greeted our comings and goings. I have always looked out with great anticipation for these landmarks to welcome me home as we passed.

So I’m very pained to see them gone.

During the first two days of the demolition of the original Sixth Street Bridge it would be these areas of the viaduct that would meet it’s final fate. The part of the bridge which jetted over the freeways would be completely demolished. And it was these artistic elements at the head of the bridge which would be smashed to pieces during those first days. Leaving an almost apocalyptic landscape just to the side of these freeways.

In the evenings I often find myself making my way towards this spot. Staring out towards the horizon during sunset. Captivated by the beauty of the downtown skyline, as it rises over a foreground of broken concrete and terrible destruction.

In the evening I often see local young people and photographers coming out here too. To witness the demolition zone. And even to stand on the last remaining stumps of the art deco monoliths.

And as I sit on my piece of broken bridge in the midst of all this, watching people frolic, I can’t help but be reminded of similar stories I often heard from my elders from their youth. Of when the freeways came demolishing their way through the neighborhood of Boyle Heights, when they were kids in the late-1940s and through the early-1950s. And I remember their memories they have shared about demolition zones and the roads which were closed to traffic, and of how they often became vast playgrounds for many local kids. Coming out to play make-believe on top of the sleeping tractors, and to run and play tag in what would eventually become the middle of the freeways.

Like I said, I have often heard these stories from my elders. Though I never thought I would experience anything quite like it in my days.

See the video of this experience here:


Pictures from the demolition site:

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