Blessing Of The Bicycles

I aaaaaaalmost didn’t go. It was yet another dreary morning augmented by a drizzle just light enough to bring the lurking oils and sludge to the roadway surfaces, making them slippery and slidey.

But I went. I pedaled through the spritz and shvitz across Silver Lake and Echo Park through Historic Filipinotown and up and over the climb up Lucas Street and rolled up to the location of the annual Blessing of the Bikes — and place of my birth: Good Samaritan Hospital — just in time to proceed past a robed gentleman who added a few drops of some holy water to the rain I’d absorbed.

And it quickly paid off, because in my circuitous route home wandering around downtown I ended up in front of Disney Concert Hall. Up on the sidewalk I went to get a picture of the gray building’s curves blending in against the gray skies, and banked a slow counter clockwise turn on the bike that rolled me over a stamped steel plate.  Next thing I know the front tire’s lost traction and slides out from me. And the next thing I know after that is that instead of flopflailing to whatever abrasions and embarrassments awaited me on the ground I somehow managed to unclip first my left foot than my right in a semi-fluid supersplit second and step over the falling bike, finishing the  maneuver standing beside 8Ball that I held by the bars in one outstretched hand as if I’d been practicing such a dismount all my biking life.

Blessed indeed.

Our Daily Bread

By far the most satisfying moment of yesterday’s Frank Lloyd Wride happened at our stop at the Monastery of the Angels between visits to Lloyd Wright’s Sowden House  and his dad Frank’s Freeman House.

It didn’t begin well. Arriving at 12:20 to discover that the gift shop was closed between 12-1 p.m. for lunch, I was disappointed that I would be leaving without my requisite loaf of the nuns’ famous pumpkin bread.

Then a be-robed diminutive priest came out from a side door as we stood about the parking lot and he jovially welcomed us. Introducing himself as Father Lopez, he inquired as to what brought us to his place. I told him I was here for some of their delicious pumpkin bread but alas the place was locked up for another 40 minutes. He told me to ring the bell to see if they would open up, but if not he’d come back out in a few minutes and take care of us from his own “private reserve.”

I did as instructed and rang the bell — hesitantly, not wanting to incur any nun wrath — but none wrathed. They just ignored my intrusion into their break time.

True to his word, Father Lopez reappeared and I was pleasantly surprised that there were four others in my group wanting loaves. He then exited around the back of the building, returning shortly thereafter with an assistant carrying bags with the bread — and “a little something extra at no charge,” the Father told us.

So I paid him my $9 and looked inside to find a bonus bag of trail mix in with my loaf, which I thanked him for. Father Lopez then went on to tell us that with the help of coupons and arrangements with local grocery stores he was going to be able to turn the $50 we spent at the monastery today into $1000 worth of food to be distributed to the needy in the area. I was a bit skeptical that so little could begat so much, but as if sensing as much he produced photocopies of past receipts that featuring multiples of  $5 discounts down the right column that together effectively whittled the total waaaay down.

In short order we headed out and I was pleased not only to be in possession of the pumpkin bread, but also by knowing that my purchase of it went on to benefit others.

Watts Happening Ride: The Notes

Without ringing my bike bell too loudly, the fourth edition of my Watts Happening Ride that took place May 8, 2010, was the best ever and the largest endeavored. It involved my most extensive level of internet-combing research for eight of the nine places we visited (I left Watts Towers to the expert tour guides on hand).

I was immensely pleased to share what I discovered with the nearly 20 cyclists who came along for the ride and tolerated my inability to edit (as well as my ability to get choked up at Eula Love’s home).

So out of pride and for posterity and for anyone interested in taking a virtual tour from the comfort of their internet access device, I present all that information in sequence on the following page:

Watts Happening Ride 2010

Watts Up!

The next in my May series of Saturday rides is upon us, and will convene in a couple hours for a 10 a.m. departure from the SilverSun strip mall at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Parkman Avenue.

Suffice it to say that by the time the entire epic 32-plus mile ride is completed, those who do the entire route with me will be sick of my voice from the ridiculous amount of notes I have compiled and will recite at the following stops:

  • Nobel Peace Prize Winner Ralph Bunche’s childhood home
  • The location of the 1969 Shootout between LAPD and Black Panthers at Black Panther Part headquarters
  • The Dunbar Hotel and the Central Avenue Jazz Corridor
  • The site of the 1974 shootout between SLA members and the LAPD
  • The site of the arrest that set off the 1965 Watts Riots
  • The home of Eula Love
  • Flashpoint of the 1992 LA Riots
  • Site of Wrigley Field

If you might be  wondering why the Watts Towers isn’t on that list it’s because tours and info are available there for anyone interested and thus I don’t have to utter a single dang word about the inspiring landmark that to me signifies the true heart of Los Angeles. I will blessedly also have nothing to say about our last stop for food at King Taco on Washington Boulevard, other than “Two carne asada tacos and a large horchata please!”

Spokecards are ready. Now I’m off to prep my bike and pack. Hope to see some of you later!

Reprint Of The Notes I Forgot To Bring With Me Yesterday On The 10 Bridges Ride

My  10-Bridgers river-side under the 6th Street Viaduct.

Since I’d left the house in a bit of an as-usual rush yesterday morning of course I forgot my notes for the 10 Bridges Ride (drawn from a variety of sources — the most reliable of which is the Creek Freak himself, Joe Linton whose book “Down By The Los Angeles River” should be on the shelf of every angeleno).

I winged it with the factoids as best I could, and near the end of the otherwise excellent excursion, rider Eric — who’d journeyed all the way from Santa Monica to participate — had the excellent suggestion that I post the notes online. And so here they are with my thanks for everyone who turned out and my hopes to see them and others on next Saturday’s Watts Happening Ride and others throughout the remaining Saturdays of May:

10 Bridges Ride Notes

The Man
Merrill Butler is widely acknowledged as the guiding force behind the design and construction of seven of the 10 bridges we’ll be crossing today, but little else is known about him. What I was able to discover was that Butler never attended college. Instead, he learned civil engineering via a correspondence course. Born in 1891 he was a city engineer for bridges and structures for 38 years, from 1923 to 1961. He died in 1963 and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale.

The Movement
The bridges  over the LA River that we’ll be crossing today were born out of the late 19th-century City Beautiful movement, when monumental public works were developed in order to uplift the character of urban residents. In 1924 LA voters approved a $2 million Viaduct Bond Act, which levied a tax to fund the city’s ambitious program to upgrade and modernize its bridges. Butler began in the beaux arts style, which dominated US public architecture of the period. You’ll see it in the more ornate 1926 Cesar Chavez Bridge and the 1925 Olympic Boulevard Bridge. His later bridges are slightly more streamlined and modern, but all reflect a consistency of purpose and vision.

Each bridge has features unique to it. You’ll see that every bridge has its own unique lighting standards that compliment the individual design. On some of the bridges we’ll be biking by seating and overlook areas, harkening back to an era when walking was the way a lot of people got around the city.

The Impact
Butler’s bridges not only allowed the city to grow but literally paved the way for the highway era. Ironically that era brought about relative obscurity both to his bridges and to him. But the simple truth is that he was never in it for any glory. Instead he considered being a civil servant a noble profession and was proud to work for the city. Merrill Butler servesas a shining example for all who strive to make our river and our city beautiful and his amazing bridges stand as monumental legacies.

The Bridges
North Broadway Bridge – Was originally known as the Buena Vista Viaduct (viaducts are so named because they span not only water but also railway tracks and/or roads). Completed in 1911, it is 968 feet long, rising 40 feet above the river and was designed by architect Alfred Rosenheim though it is generally credited to Homer Hamilin who served as Los Angeles civil engineer from 1906 to 1907.

North Spring Street Bridge – Begun in 1927 and completed in 1929 to relieve overcrowding on the North Broadway Bridge, it is 700 feet long and was designed by Major John C. Shaw, L.A.’s chief engineer from 1925-1930 — although Merrill Butler’s name also appears on the plaque on the north end of the bridge.

Main Street Bridge – Designed by H.G. Parker and Carl Leonardt, not only is this the shortest of the 10 bridges at 311 feet long (one foot shorter than the Washington Boulevard bridge) but it’s also the one that’s lost the most. Over its lifetime many of its architectural details have disappeared including a crisscross railing of artificial stone and frosted glass globes extending from decorated posts. It is also the only at-grade bridge remaining downtown.

Cesar E. Chavez Bridge – Originally called the Macy Street Bridge it was designed by Merrill Butler and completed in 1926. Along its 1270-foot length its ornamentation is decidedly Spanish Revivial, featuring large porticos and spiral columns, abstracted seashells and a replica of the city seal. It is dedicated to Father Junipero Serra, the founder of the California Missions and is believed to be the vicinity in which The Pabladores — the city’s founding settlers — crossed the river on their way from the San Gabriel Mission to what became El Pueblo de Los Angeles.

First Street Bridge – At 1,300 feet long it was designed by Merrill Butler and completed in 1929. It has been redesigned to accommodate the expansion of the Gold Line whose tracks now where the old Red and Yellow cars did until the early 1960s. The bridge bears a bronze plaque  with a dedication to the memory of Henry G. Parker, who was assistant city engineer in charge of bridge building. In 1909. At the age of 40, Parker drowned while supervising repairs to flood gates of the city’s outfall sewer near Redondo Beach.

Fourth Street Bridge -  The Goth Bridge was designed by Merrill Butler and completed in 1931, at 1890 feet this bridge replaced the last remaining wooden bridge downtown with a 254-foot arch spanning the river. Butler incorporated gothic-style details in its ornate railing, lighting and columns.

Sixth Street Bridge – Set apart from the other downtown bridges by its use of two steel arches to span the river, this bridge, designed by Merrill Butler and completed in 1932, was aligned to provide a smooth transition from Whitter Boulevard to East Sixt Street. At 3,546 feet in length it was the longest concrete bridge in the world in its day.

But the 6th Street bridge is falling apart. The sand quarried from the site 80 years ago to produce the concrete used turns out to have been toxic, triggering an alkali-silicon reaction that is slowly turning the bridge to jelly. The bridge remains safe for routine travel, but the city’s engineer corp gives it a 70% chance of failure in the event of the next major seismic event.

The Bureau of Engineering and its consultants have introduced five design alternatives, most of which attempt to replicate the current bridges signature arches. But none of them comes close to equating the current bridges singular drama.

Replacement of the bridge is estimated at $400 million dollars and in a recent op-ed column in the LA Times titled “Beauty and the Bridge.” Lewis MacAdams and Alex Ward urged the city to revisit the design and come up with one that doesn’t disregard the bridges important cultural and historical connections to the city. They wrote:

“No LA River bridge has more spectacular views of the downtown skyline than the 6th Street Bridge. None says “Los Angeles” more unmistakeably. No bridge in the city carries more symbolic weight either. There is no more direct route between Boyle Heights and the financial district than 6th Street, no bridge that better illustrates the physical proximity and the psychic distance between the working-class Eastside and the towers of the Figueroa Corridor. No bridge more accurately symbolizes the forces that bring us together and pull us apart.”

Seventh Street Bridge – At 1530 feet, the bridge as you see it today was designed by Merrill Butler and completed in 1927. And from the side it looks as if it might have once been a double-decker. In actuality the 1927 bridge was built on top of an existing bridge completed in 1910 to carry trolley cars back and forth across the river.

Olympic Boulevard Bridge – Designed by Merrill Butler and completed in 1925 originally as the Ninth Street Bridge, it was renamed in 1932 in honor of the Olympic games held here that year. Originally trolleys ran along the middle of the bridges 1,420 foot length, supported by a special girder and a thicker deck.

Washington Boulevard Bridge – Completed in 1930 from a Merrill Butler design, at 312 feet it is the second shortest of the 10 bridges. It is significant for its polychrome terra cotta frieze panels on the columns which depict the art and science of bridge building.

— • —

Here’s the route we took on Gmaps. And I only snapped a few other photos that can be found here on Flickr.

Reminder: Bike Every (Satur)Day In May Begins… (Satur)Day

In case you missed my preview post over on LA Metblogs, I’ve gone and done rustled us up some group ride goodness for next month, beginning May 1, with a replay of my 10 Bridges Ride, only this time done in reverse.

It will depart at 10 a.m. from SilverSun Plaza at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Parkman Avenue in Silver Lake. So if you’re available and interested, join me there and we’ll be part of a unique few dozens of angelenos who’ve biked over the 10 bridges spanning the L.A. River between Chinatown and Vernon.

Lunch afterward at the always wonderful Blue Star restaurant in the Scrap Metal District.