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Design

Exit, L.A.'s Most Cinematic Bridge

A farewell to the Sixth Street Viaduct.
What's the opposite of we hardly knew ye?
What's the opposite of we hardly knew ye?Library of Congress

If you want to film a car chase in Los Angeles, here’s the playbook. Head downtown. If you’re coming from the west, you’ll exit the I-10 freeway at Grand Avenue. Then, you’ll turn north, maybe on Alameda, where you’ll speed past warehouses and fast food restaurants and strip joints. When you get to Sixth Street, you’ll maneuver around to Santa Fe Avenue, named after the old railroad line that used to run here. At this point, Sixth Street is now elevated, running above you. As soon as you’re in the shadows of the overhanging structure, make a hard left. Suddenly, you’re in a long, unlit tunnel. The only daylight comes out of a rectangular opening a few hundred yards ahead of you. Hit the gas (everybody does) and when you burst into the light, pull the wheel hard to the left and head north.

What you’ve just done is illegal—you need a permit—but you’ve arrived, and you know this spot. You’re underneath the Sixth Street Viaduct, the most iconic and generally agreed-upon most beautiful of the 13 pre-World War II spans that traverse the city’s eponymous river, separating downtown from East Los Angeles. You might recognize it from the 1978 film Grease, where it was the site of John Travolta’s climactic drag race. Or, in digitized form, from Grand Theft Auto, the video game that seeks to train junior carjackers and flesh traders. Or from Them, the 1954 classic of paranoid science fiction, featuring giant irradiated ants that crawled from the very tunnel you just excited. Or from dozens upon dozens of music videos, from Kanye West to Madonna to Kid Rock.