Sixth Street Viaduct

photo by: Laurie Avocado/Flickr/CC BY-2.0

June 29, 2016

Hollywood's Most Recognizable Bridge: The Sixth Street Viaduct

The star of dozens of Hollywood blockbusters, music videos, and TV shows is going to have a major makeover. No, we’re not talking about Botox or tummy tuck, as the star in question is not human. The Sixth Street Viaduct in Los Angeles, which is even more recognizable as a filming location than Mickey’s Diner in St. Paul or Monument Valley in Utah, is being demolished to prevent safety hazards. It will be rebuilt and reopened in 2019.

The Sixth Street Viaduct is one of ten spans that cross the Los Angeles River in downtown LA. It’s technically not a bridge but a viaduct; the difference is that unlike the former structure, the latter crosses over multiple features. Indeed, the Sixth Street Viaduct crosses over two sets of train tracks, two freeways (US 101 and I-5), a river, and multiple city streets.

Sixth Street Viaduct

photo by: Michael/Flickr/CC BY-NC ND 2.0

In order to prevent safety hazards related to seismic activity and its chemical makeup, the Sixth Street Viaduct is being demolished and will be rebuilt.

Built in 1932 in the Art Deco style, the two-thirds mile-long viaduct was an emblematic example of the “City Beautiful Movement,” an architectural movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that sought to refunction cities into beautiful, functional entities. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful Los Angeles viaducts to be built in that era.

In the 1950s, the Sixth Street Viaduct began to star in a growing number of feature films. The 1954 science fiction horror flick Them!, which tells the story of Los Angeles being attacked by gigantic ants, shows the gargantuan killer insects crawling across the viaduct.

Above all, the Sixth Street Viaduct has become famous for being extensively featured in car chase scenes. The structure’s beauty and the fact that it is not as congested as freeways, for example, have made it an attractive location for filming such sequences. Arguably, the most famous film to feature the structure in such a scene was Grease (1978), in which John Travolta takes part in a climactic drag race across the viaduct. H. B. Halicki’s Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) did not show the viaduct, but the 2000 remake starring Nicholas Cage did feature a car chase across the Art Deco masterpiece.

Meanwhile, Repo Man (1984) shows Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez chasing their enemies the Rodriguez Brothers across the Sixth Street Viaduct. Not one, but two movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, who would later serve as California’s governor, include chase sequences shot at the viaduct: Terminator 2 (1991) and Last Action Hero (1993). Many action movie enthusiasts consider the motorcycle chase in the former to be one of the greatest vehicle chases in the history of cinema.

The Sixth Street Viaduct has been featured in other media. Music videos by Madonna, Kanye West, the Foo Fighters, Blink-182, and Los Angeles’ best-known metal heads, System of a Down, have all shot music videos there. The viaduct also made an appearance in the controversial video game Grand Theft Auto. On average, the Sixth Street Viaduct is featured in over 80 different media each year.

Its extensive filmography, which puts Meryl Street to shame, and celebrity notwithstanding, the Sixth Street Viaduct was closed on January 29 of this year; demolition began shortly thereafter. It is estimated that the process of demolition will take a total of nine months. Hundreds of Angelenos attended a “goodbye party” to the bridge in February. The reason for this was that the viaduct had become a safety hazard. When it was built, the Sixth Street Viaduct was constructed using concrete mixed with water from the Los Angeles River. The mixture had high alkali content, which made it prone to cracking and crumbling. The California Department of Transportation had in fact issued a warning that there was a 70% chance it would collapse during the next earthquake. Given the severity of this threat, preservationists had no objections to the demolition and rebuilding of this recognizable structure.

As soon as demolition ends, construction of a new Sixth Street Viaduct will be underway. The new viaduct is set to be opened in 2019. You can read more about the project here. In three years, the viaduct will once again be extensively featured in the movies, and it will be safer and more resistant to seismic shocks than ever.

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Filip Mazurczak is an editorial intern at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He previously worked as a freelance journalist, translator, and editor. He is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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