From graffiti, skate stunts and street takeovers to a live banda music performance and a viral haircut, thousands of people who have flocked to the Sixth Street Viaduct since its opening a month ago have left their mark, big or small, on the newly designed bridge.
In response, the Los Angeles Police Department has strengthened its presence, placed nightly curfews, and even temporarily closed and reopened the bridge to the general public.
While authorities appear to have gained some ground in their effort to contain the bridge’s traffic and the stunts, it all seems almost inevitable for one of its designers.
“Honestly, I was kind of mad deep down that we weren’t putting graffiti in those renderings, that we weren’t showing it how it was, and that we were depicting it like something that was just dropped into L.A. that didn’t belong here,” said Eric Solis, an architect with HNTB, the architecture and engineering firm that designed and built the bridge.
Solis attended the USC School of Architecture where he dedicated his thesis research to the 6th Street Viaduct and the power the infrastructure has to strengthen and connect communities. He worked for nearly a decade in the new bridge project, from concept to construction.
However, for Solis the bridge was more than connecting the Arts District to the East Side. His work also has sentimental value as he has a deep family history rooted in Boyle Heights.
His paternal grandfather immigrated to Los Angeles from Mexico City in the 1940s where he met Eric’s grandmother. They lived in their first home in Boyle Heights near Soto Street and Whittier Boulevard where Eric’s father was born and raised as a young child.
Eric’s maternal grandfather was born and raised in East Los Angeles, and his father owned a neighborhood shop, “Flores Grocery and Meats,” on the edge of Boyle Heights from the 1920s to the 1930s.
As an architect, Solis’s goal was to honor the legacy of the old bridge and also make it accessible to the East Side community.
To honor this legacy, Solis recently curated a week-long exhibit called, “Nuestre Puente,” at 767 Gallery in downtown L.A.
The art, architecture, and photo exhibit celebrated and honored the Chicano and Mexican-American history that has long been part of the bridge’s legacy.
“This show is about our culture around this bridge because even though it may not be the most architecturally significant, or world-recognized bridge in the world, it is the backdrop to our lives and future lives,” said Solis.
A printed statement on the exhibit wall read:
“Nuestre Puente serves to honor LA’s most famous bridge through images and artifacts that tell a visual story of the coexistence between this landmark and our people. This exhibition is designed to raise awareness of the bridge’s role as a critical piece of social infrastructure within our community and to erase fears that the new bridge will exist only as a monument to gentrification. We can choose to see it not as a bridge ‘for them’ but as a bridge for us – as it always has been, and as it always will be…”
The exhibit included a miniature scale model of the new bridge, as well as archive photographs from the 1990s by renowned local L.A. photographer Estevan Oriol.
Many were black and white portraits of Oriol’s homies in lowriders under the bridge’s iconic beams covered in graffiti.
Each portrait documents a moment in time and highlights what brought so many out to the old bridge.
“I just think it’s sad like in L.A. they like to tear down a lot of iconic historical things,” said Oriol. “And I heard the reason was because the concrete was deteriorating. But I just thought it was such a bummer because I’ve been shooting there for over 20 years. But I’m excited for what this new bridge will mean to younger generations.”
Many of those younger generations have flocked to the new bridge to curate their image with the backdrop of L.A.’s skyline. A young woman even had her quinceañera photoshoot on a recent weekend.
Some have played it safe by snapping a picture on the walkway, while others have risked their lives by climbing to the top of the concrete arches to catch the orange glow of an L.A. sunset.
“I think of people like our immigrant parents who were maybe living in Boyle Heights to go into work in the morning downtown,” said Orlando Campos Montoya. “The bridge to them was hope and encouragement. And now like us, and the younger generations, we get to see a second part of the bridge and it’s still a sign of hope that we want to capture,” said Montoya.
Lazaro Martinez, who is the co-founder of 767 Gallery, the space where Solis’s exhibit was being showcased, sees people visiting the bridge and leaving their mark as a sense of belonging.
“[The bridge] just gives the city life, especially as we are coming out from the pandemic,” Martinez said. “And I think it just belongs to the community at the end of the day.”
Solis too shares the same sentiment.
“The graffiti and things like that don’t make me mad because that’s actually expected. I expect it to be iconic and to be good and kind of bad. I think it’s just going to be a layering over time of people making their mark on that bridge.”