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Head-On Collision Over Bridge Repairs

MTA wants to use anti-graffiti razor wire on 1895 structure, but Highland Park history buffs say the cure would be worse than the disease.


It is hard to determine what emotion Highland Park residents are trying to convey when they sigh about the Santa Fe Arroyo Seco Railroad Bridge.

Are they enthralled by the 1895 architecture? Or are they exasperated because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants to ward off graffiti by covering the bridge in razor wire?

For Charlie Fisher, a member of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, it's probably a little of both. Towering over the Pasadena Freeway at Avenue 61, the Santa Fe is a reminder of how artful architecture was before the invention of Art Deco. The original designer is unknown, but whoever built the bridge did so with an unusual amount of care--resulting in a bridge of rare architectural significance, Fisher said.

In 1987, Fisher petitioned the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department to designate the bridge as a city historical landmark, and he was thrilled when L.A.'s oldest and longest still-functioning railroad bridge made the cut in 1988. Like the MTA, which is responsible for cleaning up graffiti, Fisher does not want to see taggers leave their marks on the monument. But he said he doesn't want to resort to wire and trenches, either.

The MTA has already made some major changes to the bridge since buying it from the Santa Fe Railroad Co. in 1992 to include in its Pasadena Blue Line project. The MTA widened it from one track to two and replaced two of the tower's granite feet with larger cement ones--all of which was fine by the Heritage Trust, Fisher said.

But when MTA officials mentioned, as an afterthought, the idea of ensconcing the bridge in razor wire, they were answered with a huff.

In a series of stern but polite letters, the Heritage Trust told the MTA that it wishes to work together to find a solution to potential graffiti. The MTA has responded that it, too, would be more than happy to negotiate, but in the meantime can it please use some razor wire? Just around the tower legs?

Although the bridge is a historic monument to some, it is a tempting smooth gray canvas to others. It takes a lot of manpower to clean up after taggers, and a prickly barricade would discourage spray paint vandals from attacking, said Clara Potes-Fellow, an MTA spokeswoman.

Absolutely not, said Fisher. "Razor wire is unacceptable. I'm personally more willing to put up with a little graffiti from time to time than razor wire," he said. "It's an eyesore."

Besides, graffiti is a non-issue now, said Jay Oren, staff architect with the L.A. Cultural Affairs Department. Before the MTA bought the bridge, the legs were connected by a catwalk, which was used with equal frequency by taggers and the workers assigned to clean up their mess.

Now that the catwalk is gone, a tagger would have a tougher time sullying the bridge, Oren said.

The MTA doesn't see it that way, Potes-Fellow said. Something needs to be done until the construction of the light-rail system is complete and the MTA can concentrate on a permanent solution to graffiti, she said.

The tug of war between the MTA and the Highland Park community is "not a confrontation," said Nicole Possert, president of the Heritage Trust, "because I think a resolution can be reached."

The grass-roots organization has agreed to fences around the tower legs until someone can come up with a permanent idea.

"But . . . we've told them that our position is still no razor wire," she said.

After several letters back and forth between the community and the MTA, the transit authority said Thursday afternoon that it will consider what the residents want and try to come up with another temporary anti-graffiti measure.

"It means probably no razor wire," Potes-Fellow said.

It is a new promise, and nothing has been done yet. But perhaps bridge-protective Highland Park residents can soon let out a sigh of relief.

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