A Lot is Going On at the Shakespeare Bridge Garden

In November 2013, the Shakespeare Bridge Garden turned ten years old and the Franklin Hills Residents Association threw an anniversary party for it. Over 70 attendees were treated to talks by retired Los Angeles bridge engineer Clark Robins about the renovation of the bridge and by local historian and author Don Seligman  who spoke about the history and development of the Franklin Hills neighborhood. Shakespearean sonnets were delightfully read by students of the Lycee International de Los Angeles. Councilman Tom LaBonge’s office helped to facilitate the event.
Click Here for more photos of the event

Click Here for more photo of cleanup day 1

The cleanup event in January was so successful that residents held a second event in February to clean up more overgrowth and debris from under the arches. All of this prep work is laying ground work for new plants… once the water system is repaired.

Clean Ups
Featured on the cover of the Spring/Summer 2014 Overview is this photo of volunteers cleaning up the slope and garden under the Shakespeare Bridge. In January 2014 this exceptional mix of more than 30 Franklin Hills residents, students and parents from LILA, Los Angeles police Senior Lead Officer Lenny Davis and Captain Jeffrey Bert, CD4 reps, and City personnel came together to prepare the slope for future plantings. Councilman LaBonge’s office arranged for a green waste trash truck that hauled away volumes of ivy, branches, weeds, and other plant overgrowth. LaBonge’s crew also carried out several truckloads of trash including a toilet that had been thrown over the bridge and smashed on the slope just above the garden. LILA donated mulch that students helped to spread around the rose garden. LILA students also learned how to prune the roses and diligently cared for every rose bush in the garden. The slope looked much better by the end of the morning that day.

Water: Prior to the anniversary event, a trash truck was reported to have backed into the backflow device that supplies water to the garden. The resulting fountain caused the main water supply to be shut off to the garden. FHRA’s Bruce Carroll was able to find and replace a damaged part on the backflow preventer and water was restored just the day before the anniversary. Ironically, two weeks later, another trash truck backed into the device a second time. This time the impact damaged a pipe under concrete that cannot be repaired.

The water system needs to be replaced. The City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation (Bureau) and Councilman LaBonge’s office are working with the FHRA to install a new back flow preventer which will be placed further back from the curb and protected with steel posts to prevent such damage from occurring again. The Bureau will also help to restore some of the original garden that was excavated a few years ago when the sewer pipe below the garden needed to be replaced. The renovated garden, with input from nearby residents, will include draught tolerant plants and a short retaining wall decorated with river stone to help hold the slope behind the rose bed.

How It Started
"Good things happen when you complain." Councilmember Tom LaBonge told  a gathering of about 100 neighbors, students and community leaders under the historic Shakespeare Bridge on November 15, 2003.
Neighborhood complaints sparked the project to rid the area under the bridge of problems ranging from graffiti and trash to a homeless encampment.
The Shakespeare Bridge Garden was created to beautify the area in order to deter graffiti, loitering, crime, lewd activity, fires and homeless camps. Residents and neighbors are invited to take a stroll down Monon and enjoy the majestic sight under the bridge with its grand and gentle arches in this peaceful garden setting.

The Shakespeare Bridge Garden 10th Anniversary
November 17, 2013
Clark Robins' Speech

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 claim.

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 about vision!

And of course Tom LaBonge gave his usual great speech to an enthusiastic crowd.

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 special bridge.

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 is.

Thank you.

Don Seligman's Speech at the 10th Anniversary November 17, 2013

Before Development:

--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 season.

--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.

Early development:

--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 Issue:

--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 Sanborn.

-- 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 properties.

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.

Housing Development:

--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 Knoll.

A few words about later developments:

--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 John 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 9, 1998.

--Finally, the Shakespeare Bridge garden was begun in 2003…