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Fixing Bridges, Pasadena Restores Links to Past

September 03, 1989|VICKI TORRES | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — Concrete falls off the bridge in chunks. Steel rods twist out and away from the gray mass they supposedly support. Rain seeps through cracks, and the sidewalk crumbles.

Yes, it's the Colorado Street Bridge--and a handful of other city-owned bridges--showing desperate signs of aging.

A $3.7-million allocation given last week by the county Department of Transportation will enable Pasadena to undertake a $20.4-million rehabilitation of its famous landmark bridge spanning the Arroyo Seco.

But the project is only the most well-known in the city's ongoing battle to preserve about 20 automobile and five pedestrian bridges, most of them more than 50 years old.

'More Than Typical'

"Pasadena has a lot of city-owned bridges, more than is typical in most Southern California cities," said City Engineer Dave Barnhart.

In the past two years, the city has spent or budgeted more than $7 million for work on eight bridges listed as high-priority projects in the city's capital improvement program.

The work has included: placing boulders under the Oak Grove Drive bridge to prevent rushing water from undermining the foundations; completely demolishing the shaky La Canada-Verdugo timber bridge, and replastering the top of the Columbia Street Bridge.

Another project--the rebuilding of the 1911 Prospect Boulevard Bridge, which was closed for eight years before it was demolished in 1984--warranted a neighborhood celebration and television coverage by CBS News when it was completed last May.

"When the bridge was closed, there was no way to get from one side of the arroyo to the other," said Marilynne Kennedy, president of the East Arroyo Residents Assn. "It really separated the neighborhood . . . . Now, I think people are glad we have been reunited."

Arroyo Seco and Eaton Wash

Many of the city's bridges are tucked away along the Arroyo Seco, which bisects Pasadena's residential neighborhoods on the west. Others span Eaton Wash on the city's west side. Like the Colorado Street Bridge, they are concrete-reinforced, arched bridges, familiar to residents who take evening walks beneath them or zip across in autos to reach home.

Most were built between 1900 and 1910, a time when immigration tripled the population in Los Angeles and Pasadena.

"There was very much of a booster policy in that period and on into the 1920s," said Ann Scheid, a local historian and author of "Pasadena: Crown of the Valley." "They developed scenic roads for tourists, creating a network of roads."

Architects also took advantage of the newest technology to build modern, reinforced concrete bridges.

Now, the city is committed to preserving the old bridges. Every year, they are inspected by the county Public Works Department and the city devises a priority list for repairs. Pasadena street maintenance crews do minor work and simple patching. More extensive jobs are awarded to contractors.

Architecturally Distinct

The Colorado Street Bridge is the most well known of the city's bridges, in part, because of its architectural distinction.

"When it was built, it was considered avant-garde . . . the highest concrete bridge in the world," said Claire Bogaard of Pasadena Heritage.

More than 100 workers built the bridge in 18 months, hauling equipment and cement on mules down the steep sides of the arroyo. Concrete was poured half a yard at a time to fill in the bridge's 11 parabolic arches.

Three men fell to their deaths from the top of the bridge during its construction. Bogaard said the accident sparked a tale, completely untrue, that the three workers plunged into the concrete pillars to be buried there forever.

Federal Funding

The bridge was opened on Dec. 13, 1913, with a caravan of bunting-bedecked cars and a celebration attended by 3,000 people. But by 1934, it was considered obsolete. A letter-writing campaign by concerned residents saved it from demolition in 1951 and a second campaign, which was begun 12 years ago, resulted in the current preservation effort.

That effort will be funded with $12.7 million from the Federal Highway Administration, which agreed last year to provide 80% of the bridge rehabilitation costs. Pasadena was to make up the difference. But the city's share mushroomed when design work was finally completed and inflation increased the projected cost from $15.8 million to $20.4 million.

The federal government was unwilling to provide any more money. In an unusual step, Pasadena appealed to the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, which on Aug. 23 agreed to advance Pasadena $3.7 million.

The commission will be paid back out of future regional transportation funds and additional taxes on roads.

Requests for construction bids will be issued later this year. Barnhart is keeping his fingers crossed, hoping that the city's new estimates match that of construction companies.

Major Restoration

"If the bids, God forbid, do come in high, we would go back and see if certain elements can be reduced," he said.

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