Pasadena, California: with 138,540 inhabitants and a suburb of Los Angeles, the city is loaded with glamor and glitter, as the rich and famous make their homes there. Streets are lined with tall palm trees and loaded with cars. And there are famous landmarks that make the city the place to see, like the Pasadena Playhouse, the Ambassador Auditorium, Bungalow Heaven, the Rose Bowl (and the site of the Tournament of Roses Parade that takes place on New Year’s Day), and of course, the Colorado Street High Bridge.
While I have yet to see the bridge, along with the other structures in the City of Angels, I was approached by the publisher about doing a review of a book written by author Tavo Olmos on this particular bridge. Looking at the copy received by the folks at Pasadena, I am pleased to inform you that the wish is granted. This part will look at the book, while the next part will feature the interview by the author himself.
The Colorado Street Bridge was one of the most important works of Dr. John Alexander Low Waddell of the Kansas City-based bridge building firm Waddell and Harrington. Before its completion in 1913, Waddell had already garner numerous accolades both in the United States as well as Europe and Asia, due to numerous bridges built during his 20-year career, plus numerous bridge design patents, like the Waddell truss, a subdivided form of the Kingpost truss bridge where there are only two of the through truss type and over a dozen pony truss types left in the country. Waddell designed the arch bridge to make it aesthetically appealing to the city, yet the contract for actually building the bridge went to John Drake Mercereau, for cost-cutting purposes. The nearly 1428-foot long bridge was completed in over a year’s time in December 1913. Waddell would later build many gigantic structures over the next 25 years until his death in 1938.
Because of wear and tear and the fact that it was becoming functionally obsolete (because of the increase in the number and size of traffic), plans were in the making to replace the Colorado Street Bridge, starting with a freeway bridge in 1953 (known as the Arroyo Seco Viaduct), mimicking the design of the bridge. The bridge was closed to traffic in 1989, but on both occasions, citizens of Pasadena petitioned the city to find ways to preserve and restore the structure. After two years of politicking and campaigning, the city council in 1991 passed a resolution, providing millions of dollars in funding to restore the bridge, a process that took a year and a half to complete, from July 1991 until it finally opened to traffic in December 1993.
For those who have little knowledge of how an arch bridge like the Colorado Street Bridge can be restored, this book provides you with the restoration process described in pictures. During the restoration process, Tavo Olmos photographed the entire restoration process, from the start of the project, where the roadway was removed, to the time where the arches were retrofitted to increase its sturdiness and make them earthquake-resistant, to the completed work of widening the decking and adding the ornamental lighting. Much of them were published in the book, published last year as part of the celebrations of the bridge’s 100th birthday. The book features some background information about the bridge and its dimensions, as well as its designer and bridge builder, before looking at the restoration process in pictures and the notes he took that were added in the book. Yet despite the fact that Olmos is a photographer, his book does not just feature photos of the entire restoration process. Articles written by people associated with the bridge and the project itself, which includes Claire Bogaard, the wife of the city mayor Bill Bogaard, members of the city public works, the city engineer and those involved with the project directly. These articles were written in simple terms, describing the restoration process to the public in 2-4 pages that are easy to read and understand, if the reader is interested in knowing more about the restoration process.
Sometimes less is more and simplicity can speak more volumes than complication ever can offer. With the Colorado Street Bridge project, Olmos did not need to describe the process beyond what was shown in the pictures and notes supporting them, giving the reader the visualization of how bridge restoration works both in general if arch bridges are involved, but also in such a tall structure like Pasadena’s beloved icon. For preservationists and interested readers wanting to know how a bridge can be restored, it is highly recommended to buy/order this book, look at the pictures and read the comments from those behind the restoration process.
At 101 years of age, the bridge still lives on, both in pictures as well as in its original form. It is hoped that this book will provide a guidance where the bridge is an example of other bridges of its kind, both big and small, that can be restored if people have the efforts and manpower to conduct it. If not, the book has some history behind the bridge and how it became an integral part of Pasadena’s history.
Author’s Note: Tavo Olmos, whose photos were used for this article, was asked a few questions about the book by the Chronicles. The information from the interview is to follow.
Olmos, Tavo. The Colorado Street Bridge: Restoration Project Photographs 1991-1993 Pasadena, CA: Balcony Press, 2013