The Shakespeare Bridge Garden
November 17, 2013
Thanks for inviting me to share your celebration.
A majority of my 45-year career with the city was spent
designing, building, maintaining, replacing and, most importantly,
restoring city bridges. I was often asked which was my favorite
bridge. If you run into one of those who did, they’ll tell you it is
the Shakespeare Bridge.
Why? To answer that, I have to discuss the terms architecture,
art, and engineering. We all can call ourselves architects, artists
or engineers. Buy an easel and some paint and you’re an artist. Or
just buy some scrap metal and a welding torch and fashion it into
something meaningful. Time will tell if you are judged as you
My judgment is that this bridge is both architecture and art of
great value. Its Gothic shapes, with gentle, graceful lines don’t
overwhelm its beautiful neighborhood setting. Its turrets make it a
fun place to be, whether driving or walking. People love it for many
reasons and that’s why it’s my favorite.
But where did it come from. It all started in the early 1900’s
when the city’s population grew from 50,000 in 1890 to 320,000 in
1910, a little more than Tom LaBonge’s Council district. But that
small group of people had a compelling vision of becoming a great
city and they invested their resources to make it happen. They built
their sewers 3 times as large as needed so they could serve the city
of their vision. Those sewers are still in use today.
Earlier this month I attended the 100th anniversary of
the Los Angeles Viaduct. The ceremony was held at the Natural
History Museum, which also was celebrating its centennial. Talk
And of course Tom LaBonge gave his usual great speech to an
In 1921, they passed the Viaduct Bond Act and hired Merrill
Butler as Engineer of Bridges to implement that same vision. Each
bridge was to serve as a gateway to a great city. Each unique in
architecture, including railings, decorative pylons, electroliers,
shape and form.
Merrill Butler did not call himself an architect, but he created
great architecture and great art. He was a self-taught engineer,
never having graduated from an engineering school. Few people know
that Frank Lloyd Wright was a civil engineer by formal training. But
he created great architecture and is remembered as a great
architect. I include Merrill Butler in that distinguished class.
When we proposed the bridge restoration project about 16 years
ago, we took our proposal to a meeting with Franklin Hills
residents. When you go to a public hearing, you never know what’s
going to happen. You can be booed off the stage or just face
opposition, or you can succeed. If you know what the community wants
and focus your project toward that end, you have a better chance. In
this case, the community was clearly focused on preserving their
So the discussion soon concentrated on construction alternatives.
We could restore the bridge in stages, keeping one lane open for
traffic over the bridge for two years. Or we could close the bridge
for one year and reroute traffic through your neighborhoods. That’s
where I first met Shirley Mims. She and others asked many
intelligent questions at that meeting, and when they voted to close
the bridge, they saved the city a lot of money and made for a better
bridge restoration. I want to thank her and all of you who were
there for your insight and cooperation throughout the project.
Shortly after that, Shirley met Charley and they were later to be
married in a ceremony on the bridge.
So it is my great pleasure to thank you for this beautiful
garden, the landscaped median on the west approach roadway above,
and all the other things you do to make this neighborhood what it
Don Seligman's Speech at the
Anniversary November 17, 2013
--Los Feliz home to ranchers, farmers and
day laborers in modest housing.
--Franklin Hills virtually uninhabited, and
vegetation was mostly scrub grass and low bushes.
--Monon was the "Arroyo de la Sacatela" or
Sacatela Creek, a stream bed that became swollen during the rainy
--Sacatela creek had its source in a natural
spring located at Monon and Tracy intersection. It then coursed
southward along Monon passing beneath today’s Lycee Francaise, and
The Prospect Studios to continue along Myra Avenue, then beneath
Thomas Starr King Middle School, connecting again along Myra Avenue
to pass below the Sunset bridge to meet eventually with Santa Monica
Boulevard at Hoover Street.
--The creek’s drainage was a problem for the newly
developing districts in the flatlands just west and south of the
Franklin Hills, areas that provided housing for the newly established
film studios like Vitagraph on Talmadge and the Sunset Studios
between Hillhurst and Fountain. In particular, during the rainy
season, there was extensive flooding in the area adjacent to the
land where Santa Monica Blvd., Myra Avenue and Hoover Street come
together. Thus, in November, 1916, the city proposed to pave over
the streambed and divert the spring water’s natural flow into a
subsurface storm drain. It created the "Municipal Improvement
District Number 4" to develop a management scheme.
--Unfortunately, the voters did not approve
$1 million in construction bonds, a portion of which would have
funded the project and the work was postponed until the early 1920s,
when city bonds were approved.
--In this immediate neighborhood, the creek
bed was either paved over (e.g. Monon and Myra), or built over
(Vitagraph Studios, King Middle School) during the 1920s.
Access to the Franklin Hills Becomes an
--Growth of Los Feliz beginning about 1920 spread
slowly into the lower reaches of the Franklin Hills south of
Franklin Avenue. The lower elevations on the south near Sunset were
subdivided beginning in 1921, but the upper reaches of the hills
were still undeveloped due to the steepness of the slopes north of
-- The burgeoning film industry in the immediate
neighborhood fed momentum for expansion into the upper hillsides, so
the property owners and contractors lobbied the city to build a
bridge on Franklin over the former creek bed to ease access from the
main districts of Los Feliz and the studios to the planned upper
Franklin Hills subdivisions.
--At first, the city refused to fund the bridge
because it would benefit only a small area without any substantial
broader public benefit.
--Eventually, the city agreed to create an
assessment district for the estimated $45,000 cost for building the
bridge to be paid for by the nearby homeowners through their
purchases from the subdividers of the hillside
Building of the bridge
--Construction began in 1925 and was finished in
1926 at an eventual cost of $59,960.
--The project included a network of 14 staircases
that provided the new hillside homeowners access to the trolley
lines in Los Feliz below.
--The bridge was 260 feet long and 30 feet wide, and
soon was given the nickname, "the Shakespeare Bridge" owing to its
gothic architectural decorative features.
--As I said earlier, the lower southern Franklin
Hills elevations with access from Sunset and Hyperion were developed
starting in 1921 and 1923. This area included Sunset Drive,
Cumberland, De Longpre, Mayview, Clayton, and Udell Court.
--But the upper northern elevations were not
developed until after the bridge was built in 1926.
--The 19 earliest upper Franklin Hills homes were
built between 1926 and 1930. Four on Ronda Vista Drive, three on
upper Franklin Avenue, seven on Lyric Avenue including the Disney
brother’s homes, and one each on Radio Street, Hollyvista, Deloz,
St. George, and Sanborn.
--Another 60 were built during the 1930s, but the
majority of the upper Franklin Hills properties date from later
periods, especially after 1950.
--Monon Street was mostly developed between 1940 and
1965, with the earliest houses located closer to Holly
A few words about later
--In 1974, the bridge was designated Los Angeles
Historic-Cultural Monument number 126.
--In 1978, The Lycée International de
Los Angeles (LILA), a bilingual French American college preparatory
school was established just south of the bridge and Monon, one of
five campuses for the institution. The 6-acre Los Feliz campus is
the largest, and is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural monument number
553. It is the only school designed by noted architect
Lautner and was originally constructed
in 1960 as a Montessori School in the International Modern style.
--In 1996, after the Northridge earthquake of 1994 exposed
structural weaknesses, the bridge was rebuilt in a reinforced
concrete one-piece construction without expansion joints for $1.5
million. It was rededicated after two years of reconstruction on May
--Finally, the Shakespeare Bridge garden was begun in 2003…