Pasadena celebrates 127 years as a city this month, but its iconic Colorado Street Bridge is stealing the spotlight.
The 1,467.5-foot span over the Arroyo Seco chasm that separates Pasadena from Eagle Rock celebrates its centennial this year. Treasured today as a symbol of the past as much as it was once admired as a beacon of the modern era, the bridge opened to rave reviews on Dec. 13, 1913.
Though some stretched longer and others spanned higher, no other bridge previously built in America had the impressive combination of both, a National Park Service report stated in 1988.
Just as unprecedented was the bridge’s graceful curve, a solution to tricky soil conditions below and a height difference between the Arroyo’s east and west banks.
Pasadena and Los Angeles County shared the roughly $240,000 cost of building the bridge, which rises to 148.5 feet at the highest point of its 11 reinforced concrete arches.
At the time, Pasadena laid claim to the highest proportion of automobile ownership in the world — some 5,000 cars for about 40,000 residents, according to architectural historian Ann Scheid.
Initial bridge boosters included the Pasadena Board of Trade (a precursor of the city’s chamber of commerce) and the Automobile Club of Southern California, which campaigned to close a gap in the coast-to-coast National Old Trails Road system that would become U.S. Route 66.
Ironically, the increase in automobile traffic that was such a boon to Pasadena would eventually spoil the pristine air that had attracted the city’s early settlers, Scheid said.
As reliance on cars increased, state transportation officials built the Pioneer Bridge that now connects the Ventura (134) and Foothill (210) freeways in 1953 and decided to demolish its aging predecessor — until a city letter-writing campaign prompted them to reconsider.
The Colorado Street Bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, yet continued to deteriorate until it was closed in 1989 due to seismic safety concerns.
The bridge reopened again on Dec. 13, 1993 — 80 years to the day of its completion — after city officials, encouraged by the local preservation group Pasadena Heritage, obtained funding for a roughly $27-million reconstruction effort that included replacing most of its concrete supports.
Tavo Olmos, who roamed the Arroyo as a child, was tapped to document bridge renovations.
His photographs, to be published in an upcoming book, were to be displayed Saturday during a bridge-themed city birthday celebration at the Pasadena Museum of History and will be featured in a museum exhibit planned for November.
“The Colorado Street Bridge has always been a magnificent thing that, as a young person — before I thought about architecture and art — always seemed larger than life. It almost looks like it grew right out of the ground,” Olmos said. “It’s a sculpture, really. A work of art.”
Staff writer Tiffany Kelly contributed to this report.
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