A cool way to honor the bridges that cross the L.A. River

The bridges that cross the L.A. River are being immortalized — on souvenir plates.

A West Hollywood collector is paying homage to the city’s core waterway — and to Merrill Butler, the legendary engineer behind the concrete riverbed — with a limited edition set of four practical porcelain keepsakes, each featuring a different L.A. River crossing.

The goal, collector John Kalish said, is to "reveal architectural gems that seem hidden in plain sight."

He collaborated with photographer Daniel Stein and art director Ryan Kelly on most of the photographs and all of the details. The flip side  of each plate contains historical information surrounded by geometric motifs taken from the specific structure. A portion of proceeds from the $199 cost goes to the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, which helps support local initiatives and civic projects. 

The plates have a classic feel but with a simple, contemporary sensibility. 

The images incorporate mundane yet important details from real-life surroundings, such as power lines. A train is seen passing in the foreground of the Cesar Chavez Bridge design. Adjacent spans over the L.A. River recede into the distance on the 4th Street and 7th Street plates.

The depiction of the 6th Street Street Bridge, built in 1932 and demolished this year, required a different approach. Blurred edges have the effect of making “the image float on the porcelain coupe base, somewhat ghost-like” to suggest its erasure, Kalish explained, since its replacement is currently under construction. (Fun fact: The person behind the lens for that particular image was Mayor Eric Garcetti.)

Kalish is a Manhattan-to-L.A. transplant who has has long loved souvenir plates. His collecting passion started with a cup and saucer set he found at an antique shop in Akron, Ohio, emblazoned with an “Ode to the Farmer” poetry and imagery. “In many ways, my interest has circled back to this first purchase,” he said, since this type of material object “literally tells the story of itself and American history.”

He debuted his first collection of salad/dessert plates showcasing six historic Hudson River bridges in 2009. After living in Los Angeles for decades, it was time to turn his attention closer to his adopted home.

By the way, says Kalish, “these are not your grandmother's souvenir plates.”

He added: “They are meant to be used, and they are dishwasher safe.”

Retailers include the Los Angeles County Store, Museum of Contemporary Art gift shops, Art Share L.A. in the Arts District, Cafe Los Feliz as well as online at theriverbridgesplatesproject.com

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