First and Glendale Viaduct (view from NW end) – Los Angeles CA
In 1941, the Works Projects Administration (WPA) built a viaduct to take First Street over the Pacific Electric interurban trolley tracks that ran along Glendale Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA, at the time. The viaduct is still in use, though Pacific Electric disappeared long ago.
“Designed to eliminate a major traffic problem on the Northwest side of Los Angeles,” the caption to a WPA photo notes, “the First and Glendale viaduct, a $475,000 WPA construction project, is scheduled for completion, under city sponsorship, approximately July 15, 1941. A WPA crew of 270 workers are now engaged on the job. The viaduct will carry First Street over the busy Pacific Electric tracks on Glendale Boulevard, thus eliminating a hazard and expediting westbound traffic […]. A reinforced concrete grade separation with a 44-foot roadway and over-all length of approximately 900 feet, the viaduct is now approximately 49 percent completed. Its construction by WPA is part of a citywide WPA program sponsored by the city for improvement of streets and highways and elimination of traffic hazards and bottlenecks.”
Historian and journalist Nathan Masters calls the viaduct “an infrastructural anomaly—a 900-foot bridge better suited for a freeway interchange than an intersection of mere surface streets.” In fact, Masters continues, the bridge “does bear more than a superficial resemblance to freeway architecture. In ornamentation, its design by Ralph W. Stewart represents a transitional form between the Art Deco flourishes of Merrill Butler’s Sixth Street Bridge (1932) and the naked brutalism of modern freeway structures. Blank concrete faces below the bridge’s deck give way to decorative, rectangle-windowed balustrades above. Geometric patterns adorn the bridge’s pylons, and, before standard streetlights replaced them, ornate, almost-rococo electroliers hung from fluted light poles.
“The viaduct,” Masters adds, “also boasts common ancestry with Los Angeles’ earliest freeways. As Auto Club historian Matt Roth recounts in ‘Concrete Utopia,’ it was part of a larger program among city traffic engineers to overcome traffic congestion through new technologies like grade-separations and limited-access roads. In places, state-funded projects incorporated these earlier city efforts into modern freeways. […] The viaduct linking First with Beverly nearly became part of a modern highway itself. In 1936 the city planning commission considered a plan to upgrade First Street into a ‘semi-freeway’ between Glendale Boulevard and downtown. Later, city and state engineers considered routing the Hollywood Freeway (US-101) south of its eventual location—a route that might have co-opted the viaduct as a freeway overpass. But First Street never graduated beyond the level of a humble surface road, and the viaduct remains a remnant of past transportation visions.”
Note: From 1939 to the end of the program in 1943, the WPA was known as the Works Projects Administration rather than the original name, Works Progress Administration.
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1941 Works Progress Administration Photo in the National Archives, Record Group 69
Nathan Masters, "At First and Beverly, A Freeway Bridge Out of Nowhere" (KCET)
Project originally submitted by Andrew Laverdiere on May 25, 2010.
Additional contributions by Natalie McDonald.
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