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Historic Bridge to Downtown Reopens

Landmarks: Span over Los Angeles River is restored, using modern materials to appear as it did in 1910.

March 31, 2000|DOUGLAS P. SHUIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ending 18 months of delays and detours, the oldest of downtown's nine bridges spanning the Los Angeles River officially reopened Thursday after a $20-million renovation and seismic retrofitting.

Strategically, the Buena Vista-Broadway Bridge links Lincoln Heights with Chinatown and gets heavy use as an alternative to the Pasadena Freeway.

But culturally and historically, the 90-year-old bridge may have far more importance as a symbolic link connecting the Latino and Chinese communities and as a favorite passage to Elysian Park for generations of Eastside families.

The bridge also offers the best view of a political minefield--the 50-acre tract of abandoned railroad property called the cornfield, which developers want to turn into an industrial park and some would like to see preserved as parkland or a site for a middle school.

Councilman Mike Hernandez, who supports the development project, ignored the anti-development leafleteers and turned the dedication into a celebration of the Eastside.

"Its a recognition of communities coming together in Los Angeles," Hernandez told a crowd of more than 300 government officials and community members, who sat or stood in the middle of the bridge.

Finishing his last term and counting the days, Hernandez pulled out all the stops, with bands, free Chinese and Mexican food for the VIPs and others who showed up and speeches that kept the bridge closed in both directions for much of the day.

Joining the celebration were the band and drill team from Lincoln High School, the East Wind Dragon Dancers from Chinatown, Eastside jazz trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez and a full delegation of city officials.

Memories were even evoked of two star-crossed lovers who plunged to their deaths in 1984.

"A couple was breaking up," said Los Angeles Police Officer Austin Fernald of the Hollenbeck Division. "He was standing on the ledge on the other side of the railing, saying he was going to jump. She says, 'No, don't jump, don't jump,' and grabs hold of him. He grabs on to her and they both go over."

Rodriguez, who was nominated for a Grammy this year, paused between songs to recall the bridge as a gateway for him and his family to Dodger Stadium and Elysian Park.

Raised in East Los Angeles, Rodriguez pointed to the entrance to Elysian Park at the west end of the bridge, recalling: "We used to come and have picnics out here, even before the stadium was built."

During the restoration, the bridge was kept open, but traffic was funneled into one lane.

"Basically, we built a brand-new bridge inside the old bridge," said Amid Habbal of Vanir Construction Management, which oversaw the construction of the bridge, which is 70 feet wide and 900 feet long.

Portia Lee, who served as a historical consultant for the bridge restoration project, said the bridge now is "an exact historic restoration" of the bridge as it was constructed in 1910.

Ornamental reproductions of old-fashioned street lights, paired 40-foot-high pylons at each end of the bridge and historic railings were rebuilt, using modern materials.

Although the pylons have been described as Doric, Lee said they were a composite of different styles of ornamental classical columns.

"They are not copied from any place in Europe," she said. "They are really the work of a California architect who was reviving a classical tradition of massive pylons at either end of the bridge."

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