Hundreds gather for 6th Street Bridge Farewell Festival

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Hundreds of people gathered on the 6th Street Bridge on Saturday afternoon for a festival to mark the closing of the iconic span next year. A curving 3,500-foot concrete bridge that connects the downtown Arts District to Boyle Heights, the structure will be torn down next year because of a chemical reaction that threatens to destabilize its concrete.

The new 6th Street Bridge, a $428-million project expected to open in 2019, will echo the design of the old one: a four-lane road framed by curved arches of varying heights following the approximate path of a stone skipped across a pond.

Planners imagine the bridge as one that dedicates equal space to pedestrians, bicyclists and cars and integrates the two very different communities it connects.

The festival was an attempt to illustrate that vision. Residents of Boyle Heights, a low-income, largely Latino community, and those of the affluent Arts District mingled in the center of the bridge, snacking on $4 coffee cake and $1 tacos.

Marcus Fuentes and his wife, Angelica, owners of Papi’s Pizzeria downtown, said they moved to the Arts District partly because of iconic architecture like the 6th Street Bridge. They came to the festival to say goodbye.

“I wanted to come out and see it one last time,” Fuentes said.

On the Boyle Heights side, near a column of polished lowriders, Peter Cruz and some members of the Techniques lowrider club shared memories.

“Cruising it, man!” Cruz said.

The 6th Street Bridge is prime cruising grounds for lowrider clubs, he said. His has been in operation for more than 40 years, and their cruises -- the most recent of which was last month -- draw enough hydraulically flamboyant automobiles to stretch across the bridge to Boyle Heights.

"It'll be sad to see it go," Cruz said. "This is our history."

At the center of the bridge, about 200 people waited for free screen-printed T-shirts featuring the structure.

Daisy Smith, 53, of West Hollywood, waited for nearly two hours, she said. Smith works in the film industry and has spent hours shooting movies and car commercials on the bridge.

“I wanted a memento,” Smith said.

The bridge, she said, has as many film, television and commercial credits as any hard-working actor. It appeared in “Grease," "Terminator 2," Kanye West music videos and television episodes of "Lost" and "The Amazing Race."

“It’s sad. It’s a beautiful piece of history. It’s unique to L.A., but it could almost be anywhere," Smith said.

Councilman Jose Huizar used to ride his bicycle across the span to pick up copies of the Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese newspaper, for his delivery route in Boyle Heights. The new bridge, he hopes, will be more of a destination than a connector. And it will have bike lanes.

A school-bus-length mock-up of the new design was on display Saturday. It featured 14-foot bike lane, four car lanes and wider sidewalks offering access to the crests of two arches. Walkways leading underneath the bridge will connect to a performance venue, parks, a soccer field and other amenities if funding can be secured.

The city plans to close the bridge in January, said Los Angeles City Engineer Gary Moore. The new one will take at least three years to complete.

In the meantime, lowrider clubs will have to find a new place to cruise, car commercials will need to use other backdrops and Fuentes will have to find a less scenic location to walk his dog.

Fuentes said he hoped some of the architecture will be preserved. But his primary concern is more practical.

“Actually, the biggest concern is going to be the traffic,” Fuentes said.

Read more at the LATimes.com