They came from near and far, to claim a piece of Los Angeles history.
“It’s a memento from a bridge I crossed many times,” said Boyle Heights residents Salvador Vélez, holding a large chunk of aged concrete.
Vélez was one of hundreds of people who attended Saturday’s Rock Day LA, a city giveaway of pieces of demolished segments from the Sixth Street Bridge. The iconic bridge, with its dual metallic arches –made famous in numerous films, TV shows and videos– is being brought down because of its weakening foundation.
At a lot on Santa Fe Street just west of the bridge, fans of the structure lined up for up to two hours to choose rocks from a pile of chunks of various sizes. Along with a piece of the old span, they received a certificate of authenticity and a commemorative T shirt. The festive event included live music –rock, of course– and food trucks.
The event was sponsored by Councilmember José Huízar and the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering, the agency overseeing the demolition.
Lily García, 23, came with her brother and mother. “I wanted to have a piece of the bridge,” the Boyle Heights resident said. “More than a bridge, it’s a piece of history.”
García got a little more than most. She and her family members had their rocks signed by Huízar, who seemed to enjoy the event as much as his constituents.
“People have an attachment to the bridge, whether they crossed it themselves or saw it in a movie,” said the councilman, who told how area residents approached him during a farewell party for the bridge back in October, and asked if they could keep a piece of the structure.
“There are few iconic structures that people see and say: ‘that’s L.A.,’” Huízar said. “The Hollywood sign is one and the Sixth Street Bridge is another.”
Authorities say the demolition process of the Sixth Street Viaduct –the bridge’s official name– is about 50% done and should be completed by the end of the year. Already one of the steel arches has been removed –it’s not known which one of the two will be saved and installed at a park to be built under a new span to begin construction next year.
The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2018. A model of the future structure was available for review Saturday, but the design by architect Michael Maltzan was not necessarily getting thumbs up.
“It’s going to take getting adjusted to it,” said David Rivas, as he waited in line for his turn to pick out a rock.
Rivas, a 38-year-old immigrant from El Salvador who has lived in Boyle Heights for 10 years, said he’ll miss the old structure. “I think it’s part of the history, I think it’s part of Boyle Heights,” he said.
It’s even more personal for Michelle Nieto, 49, who carefully sought a spot to sign in a commemorative banner displayed at the event. Nieto, who grew up in Monterey Park, recently moved to the Boyle Heights home where her mother grew up.
“This rock means a lot to me,” said Nieto, holding on to her piece of history. “Who knows how far it goes back. People have traveled over it… the memories it holds.”
“I think I’m going to put it in a little glass box and bring it to the office, frame the certificate,” she said with true pride.
Not everyone who came had such an attachment to the bridge –or to Boyle Heights.
Jessica Sánchez lives in Clovis, in California’s Central Valley, and happened to be in town with her dad for Saturday’s Rams preseason football game –the team’s first game in Los Angeles in decades. “We saw in the news that they’re giving away the rock,” she said. “I mean, it’s already a historic weekend, may as well go the whole nine yards and get a chunk of history here, too.”
And Sánchez was not disappointed with her piece of L.A. history.
“It has a flat surface, so I’m really happy with the rock,” she said.
Photo above: Councilman José Huízar behind the table where participants picked out their rocks. All photos by Antonio Mejías-Rentas