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A Bridge To Hollywood Legend: Saying Farewell To The Sixth Street Viaduct

The crumbling Sixth Street Viaduct, which has appeared in scores of Hollywood productions, is being demolished due to safety concerns.
Mark Ralston
AFP/Getty Images
The crumbling Sixth Street Viaduct, which has appeared in scores of Hollywood productions, is being demolished due to safety concerns.

It's not often that Hollywood loses one of its great icons — an icon whose career spans decades and runs a gamut of some of America's best-known films. From Grease to Terminator 2, from Roadblockto Gone in 60 Seconds, the unlikely star never became a legend despite never really getting top billing.

"It's not the lead character," says Dan Koeppel, a Los Angeles-based author who writes about transportation. "It plays a supporting role, and that's what it should be doing."

The icon, of course, is not an actor at all. It's a bridge: the Sixth Street Bridge, also known as the Sixth Street Viaduct, in LA.

And it's getting torn down, thanks to a kind of concrete cancer called alkali-silica, which is causing too many cracks and crumbles. The bridge was one moderate earthquake away from collapse, according to the California Department of Transportation. Its demolition, which is slated to occur in stages, began on Feb. 5.

With its swooping metal arches, and its concrete art deco base it's hard to forget it once you've seen it. Built in 1932, the Sixth Street Bridge really owes its story to the early 1900s. The Los Angeles River would occasionally flood, and when it did, it would wash away homes and lives. After wooden bridges failed, city fathers decided to build 12 concrete bridges all connecting to downtown.

"Those are all beautiful art deco bridges, different themes," Koeppel says, "and the Sixth Street Bridge is the jewel of them all."

The river bed underneath the bridge was eventually paved to control flooding. That concrete also beckoned Hollywood, making the bridge much easier for film crews to access. No one really knows the first film that made the bridge famous, but one that comes to mind is the 1951 film noir Roadblock.

"That scene has an amazing ending," Koeppel recalls. "If you look at the still frame, there's a body in the river, two police cars, and the silhouette — the extremely hourglass silhouette — of the femme fatale is walking off into the distance."

Even the mayor of Los Angeles has some personal memories tied to the bridge.

"I can remember walking underneath the bridge as a kid with my sister and my father and just kind of looking up amazed," Mayor Eric Garcetti says.

He says change is hard for any city.

"People are letting go little by little, and I think the real feeling is one of nostalgia, sadness," he says. "But there's legitimately simultaneity a tremendous amount of excitement."

The new Sixth Street Viaduct is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.