If you live in or have traveled to Southern California, you’ve probably driven over and perhaps even seen the L.A. River out your window briefly in passing.
And you may not know it, but you’ve probably seen it as a featured location in any number of TV shows and movies. The drag race scene in Grease? The motorcycle and semi-truck chase in Terminator 2? Both filmed down in the L.A. River. It’s an iconic, mostly concrete swath that cuts through the Eastern edge of downtown as it heads out towards San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. In downtown LA, several bridges crisscross it, taking you from the Arts District over to Boyle Heights and beyond.
We knew that the 6th Street Bridge was going to be demolished to make way for a new and safer crossing. The bridge, probably one of the grandest and most picturesque structures to cross the river, was built in 1932 and was a fixture of the LA landscape and itself had appeared in countless tv, film and video projects. Since we were in the neighborhood, we parked and took a stroll up and over the bridge just so that we could say that we’d done it.
built in 1932, it was a fixture of the LA landscape and itself had appeared in countless tv, film and video projects
But when we got down – oh, man – it was the coolest thing ever. Here’s this view that you’ve seen in countless films, and you’re in it! Oddly enough (for Los Angeles), there was a trickle of water flowing down the river. We were there in January, and with that winter’s rains came runoff headed out to the ocean. To our left, the steep banks of concrete sloped down, with the river leading to a straight shot Eastward. All we saw were bridges in the distance along with a beautiful blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. Add to it a shopping cart here and there, and some kids riding their bikes through the water and the scene was pretty surreal.
Above all of this loomed the 6th Street Bridge. We’d walked across it, and now we were right underneath it. While the views from atop the bridge were fantastic, they were even more so from underneath.
Within a few months of our visit, the city demolished the bridge. Designs for the new bridge, to be completed in a few years, incorporate some of the themes from the original.
Flash forward a year or so, and we wanted to head back to the L.A. River to see if we could check it out at a different time of day. We got back to 6th Street, and indeed, the entire bridge is gone. The access point to the riverbed itself remains there at Santa Fe Street, but it’s gated and locked. Determined to try and find a way down, we drove around and checked out the other bridges that cross the river. We parked at the 4th Street bridge and went up and over. Down below us was empty except for one person walking along the concrete banks while water from the day’s flash rains flowed through. In the day’s fading light, we took some more photos and headed back to the car.
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On this second visit, we did see one person walking there, and we saw a downed fence at the far end of a railyard, but we can’t condone or suggest that you do the same to get into the river. Once the new bridge is complete, it’s likely that access through that Santa Fe tunnel will remain open, due to the popularity of filming and other projects that take place there. On our first trip there, we certainly lucked out to be both on top of and underneath the famed 6th Street Bridge.
We would never have found this spot if we had played it safe. Live a little – go down a wrong street, take a turn where you normally wouldn’t. Even in the middle of an urban core such as downtown Los Angeles, there are great things to photograph! Don’t limit yourself to parks and landscapes for beautiful images. Head into the city and open yourself up to a whole new adventure!
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