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LONG BEACH AREA : Illuminated Bridge May Be L.A.'s Symbol

March 02, 1995|SUSAN WOODWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Statue of Liberty stands proud over New York Harbor. Paris has the Eiffel Tower. In Sydney, there is the Opera House on Sydney Harbor. The skyline of perhaps every major city in the world includes a famous monument. Every city, that is, except Los Angeles.

Plenty of ideas for a welcoming symbol to the City of Angels have been entertained. Now one may finally come to fruition: lighting the Vincent Thomas Bridge between San Pedro and Long Beach.

Former Mayor Tom Bradley initiated an organized search for an appropriate symbol in 1987. An international panel looked at about 150 designs for a structure to straddle the Hollywood Freeway near City Hall. The panel chose "Clouds of Steel," a huge sculpture of steel beams housing theaters, museums and cafes. The $33-million design never got off the ground.

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About the same time, a little-known committee of San Pedro residents was working on a plan to make the 6,060-foot Vincent Thomas Bridge burst into light every nightfall.

"We were out one night in San Francisco and saw how beautiful the (Golden Gate) Bridge looked at night and it was an idea that just came about," said Juanita Chavez of the time she and her late husband, Marston, first hit on the notion.

Seven years later, that concept and the need for a civic gateway to Los Angeles have converged.

Now favoring a cheaper '90s-style alternative that makes use of an existing structure, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to formally approve lighting the Vincent Thomas Bridge this month. The council's Arts, Health and Humanities Committee approved it Tuesday and will recommend the plan to the council.

Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., who represents San Pedro, has been a main advocate of the plan. He said lighting California's longest suspension bridge is the perfect solution to a longstanding issue and everything else is in place.

"It's not going to be just a string of lights between the spans. It's going to be an artistic concept of the best use of light to accentuate the bridge," Svorinich said of the $350,000 plan.

He has secured $50,000 from the Cultural Affairs Department, and $110,000 that the Harbor Department is contributing to the city's Percent for Art program.

With interest, an additional $100,000 donated by Shuwa Investments Corp. eight years ago for a welcoming monument has become $150,000. The president of the Japanese company, Takaji Kobayashi, supports using the donation to light the bridge.

The Vincent Thomas Bridge Lighting Committee has raised about $35,000.

Caltrans, which lit the Golden Gate Bridge in 1988, has agreed to design, install and maintain the lights for about $3,000 a year.

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