L.A.'s historic 1st Street bridge reopens after 3-year closure

The historic 1st Street bridge over the Los Angeles River is a key portal for thousands of commuters moving in and out of downtown Los Angeles.

But when officials marked the reopening of the span Tuesday after a closure of more than three years for widening and rail construction, they spoke less about traffic than the cultural link between the city’s core and neighborhoods to the east.

“For more than 80 years, this iconic bridge has carried the dreams of millions of people traveling the short distance between Boyle Heights and Downtown L.A.,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar.

PHOTOS: Bridges over the L.A. River

With the opening of a Metro light rail extension over the span in 2009 and continuing improvements at both ends of the bridge, “the connection ... will grow even stronger in coming years,” Huizar said.


The 1st Street bridge opened in 1929, part of the city’s beautification movement in the early part of the 20th century.

Before crews began the $46.2-million effort to widen the north side of the bridge and install Gold Line tracks, the 1,300-foot link carried 18,000 motorists a day, sharing the traffic load with parallel downtown gateways like the 4th Street bridge.

Residents from the downtown arts district, Little Tokyo and Boyle Heights who joined officials at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting said they were excited the bridge was reopening.

“It’s our path to the Eastside and likewise for them to come into Little Tokyo. We’re part of a community; we want to work together,” said community organizer Howard Nishimura, 75. “The more we can interact with each other, the better off we’ll be.”

The bridge was declared a historic-cultural monument in 2008, and the Gold Line extension, which runs down the middle of the bridge, opened the following year. The westbound lanes were closed during construction, replaced by a circuitous detour around the north edge of downtown.

City Engineer Gary Lee Moore said the project faced unforeseen challenges, including difficulties working in the riverbed. Crews also had to work over live rail lines, use large cranes to lift 100-ton arches and relocate 27 housing units.

Moore said the bridge now has improved approaches at both ends and an additional 26 feet on the north side that allows for two lanes in each direction and the rail line down the center median. The bridge also was retrofitted to withstand a 7.0 earthquake.

In an effort to maintain its historical value, designers recreated light fixtures resembling those used in 1929.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, also a candidate for mayor, said the project highlights how transportation improvements can increase interaction between neighborhoods.

“We can already see the value in the number of people from East Los Angeles coming to events in downtown, Little Tokyo and Chinatown and for our downtown residents to reach friends and family in East Los Angeles,” Perry said.

“The greatest way we can unify all people in this city is to create ... seamless ways of getting from one community to the next.”

PHOTOS: Bridges over the L.A. River