September 27, 2019

Photo Essay: A Strong New Bridge Rises Beside A Crumbling Old One in Long Beach

I first heard of the Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach the first time I saw it—on a boat tour of the Port of Long Beach in 2016.

I'd never had the occasion to drive across it...

...and suddenly, I found myself sailing under it.

Three years ago, the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project had already broken ground three years before that, in 2013.

And six years later, I got the chance to check out the progress of the new bridge, which is being built alongside the extant bridge.

When you drive across the current Gerald Desmond Bridge (its replacement will probably have a new and different name), you can really see how short it is—and how much taller the Port's Back Channel crossing needs to be.

In fact, the new bridge will feature the highest deck of any cable-stayed bridge in the U.S. And it'll be California's first long-span cable-stayed bridge in California and LA metro's first cable-stayed bridge (and for now, only).

In cable-stayed bridge designs, cables (or "stays") connect directly from the road deck to the bridge's load-bearing 515-foot towers (or pylons)—rather than the entire bridge being "suspended" from above. (The Brooklyn Bridge uses a combination of cable-stayed and suspension technology.)

It feels precarious to drive past it while it's still under construction...

...but driving across the disintegrating through-arch bridge it's replacing is somehow even worse, especially if you've seen the nets (or "diapers") that hang underneath the trusses to catch pieces of crumbling concrete that have been falling off for the last 15 years.

Competed in 1968, the Gerald Desmond Bridge has just surpassed its 50-year lifespan—but it's been functionally obsolete for a while now. It was built to provide vehicular access to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, not one of the biggest commercial ports in the country.

With 155 feet of vertical clearance, modern-day container ships can't make it underneath. The new bridge will bring that clearance up to 205 feet.

At 527 feet in length—with the western terminus at Terminal Island and the eastern terminus at Ocean Boulevard, which leads to Downtown Long Beach—the approach for trucks is actually quite steep. By elongating its replacement to a span of 2000 feet, the engineers are cutting truck drivers a not-so-insignificant break. (The west approach from Terminal Island alone will span 2800 feet and the east approach, 3600 feet.)

Just 40 cables will support this new, larger bridge—though each cable is made up of anywhere from 45 to 109 individual strands, which you can really only comprehend when examining a cross-section of one of them.

The bigger challenge, we were told, has been the instability of the ground below—given its location smack dab in the middle of the Wilmington Oil Field.

So below the steel-reinforced concrete columns you see above ground (on top of the "pile caps"), there's much more concrete that's been poured underground to form foundation piles, as deep as 175 feet below the surface.

It had to be that way to keep the bridge from sliding or sinking.

Of course, some movement is always a good thing when it comes to bridges surviving earthquakes.

So, the engineers have actually "floated" the deck on top of the columns to allow some wiggle room and to make sure smaller, more easily replaceable parts (e.g. expansion joints) absorb the shock of seismic activity rather than the main parts of the bridge. Also, sections of the deck are connected by shock-absorbing hinges, and dampers suppress vibrations where the cables meet the main span.

And that's a good thing, considering its proximity to the Newport–Inglewood Fault—the source of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, California's second-most deadly earthquake in state history.

It's amazing that any bridge ever stands in Southern California, with all the forces that are working against them. But this new one is being built as a 100-year bridge—so hopefully it'll last longer than 50 years, at least.

Stay tuned for dispatches from the walking path and observation decks when they open in late 2019 or early 2020.

Related Posts:
Conquering LA's 'Golden Gate' Bridge
Triborough State of Mind

September 18, 2019

Photo Essay: An Abandoned Silver Mining Castle Along The Loneliest Road

Anson Phelps Stokes was a born New Yorker who found himself in Nevada. Obviously, I can relate.

It was his involvement in the company Phelps Dodge Corporation that got him into mining in the American West in the mid- to late-19th century, still very much the Old West.

Austin, Nevada was experiencing a silver mining boom in the 1860s—and once Stokes arrived, he got deeply involved in both developing mine claims and building the Nevada Central Railway.

In 1897, he completed a summer home he had built for his son, James Graham Phelps Stokes (known as just "Graham"), just out of medical school and the new president of the Nevada Company.

Three stories high and featuring a number of balconies, it's modeled after a tower in the Roman Campagna in Italy, which Stokes had seen in a painting.

Made of hand-hewn native granite boulders that are either wedged together or held by clay mortar, the tower measures 50 square feet around.

Maybe that's why the Stokes sons abandoned it, after occupying it for only a couple of months.

The bedrooms were on the top floor, the living room on the second floor, and the kitchen and dining room on the ground floor.

There were fireplaces on each of the three floors.

It seems to be less of a home and more of a sentinel outlook over the Reese River Valley and the Stokes family mine claim, which they sold off in 1898.

After that, the property changed hands a few times—but it mostly fell into disrepair and has been preserved as a living ruin and an important detour off Highway 50, "The Loneliest Road in America."

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Stone Tower Overlooks The Conquered Desert Valley Floor
Photo Essay: San Marcos Mountain Lodge, a.k.a. Knapp's Castle

Photo Essay: Walt Disney's Snow White-Era Family Home

Walt Disney lived on Woking Way in Los Feliz, Los Angeles with his wife Lillian and his daughters Diane (born 1933) and Sharon (adopted 1936) until 1950.

Illustration by Mike Peraza, via

During those years, The Walt Disney Company released such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, PinocchioFantasiaDumboBambi, and Cinderella.

Built in 1932, the 6400-square-foot storybook cottage had been the Disneys' second house and third home together—but they would eventually move on to their Carolwood Estate in Holmby Hills (since demolished).

Its current owner is Russian horror flick director Timur Bekmambetov...

...but the house is so haunted, people say, that he refuses to sleep there. (Scroll all the way to the bottom to see why.)

Source: Disney

The Tudor-style home—with French Normandy elements and a Mediterranean entryway—was essentially designed by Disney himself, with the help of his Disney studio architect, Frank Crowhurst.

With a baby on the way, the home was completed in just two months.

Unfortunately, Lillian miscarried.

After that, the Disneys weren't so sure they'd need all 12 rooms of their new home after all.

But within a year after moving in, Lillian successfully gave birth after a surprise pregnancy (Diane).

Source: Disney

And this home was where Walt thrived as an artist—and became a dad.

Although all the original furnishings are gone, many of the original architectural elements remain, including the circular rotunda with its wrought iron spandrels...

...and stained glass windows...

...which feature scenes ripped right out of the pages of a fairy tale (e.g. what I think are depictions of Robin Hood and his bugle horn).

The art glass was reportedly fabricated by a local LA studio—but as they're not signed, no one's really sure which studio.

In both the rotunda and dining room, Walt commissioned the ceilings to be painted by a graduate of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.

That is, unless the ceiling was vaulted with beams, as in the double-story living room (or "grand room") with the overlooking "Juliet balcony."

More leaded glass (this time, painted) gives a peek out to the back patio and yard...

...with its full sun exposure...

...creeping vines...

...bay windows...

...and steeply pitched (shingled) roof.

This is where you get the sweeping views of Downtown LA that are partially what make the house worth more than $3 million.

But this was once the Disney daughters' playground—anchored by the dwarf playhouse cottage Daddy Disney commissioned (now beside a pool that was added after the Disneys left, in 1963).

Source: Disney

Walt used to phone the girls up while they were playing in there, sometimes posing as Santa Claus to get them to come out.

The billiard room above the garage—now an art studio with secret peek-a-boo bar—was once their playroom, too. Though some evidence indicates that Walt also used it as a home gym.

Upstairs are the little girls' former bedrooms and bathrooms, whose fixtures and porcelain I suspect are original.

Some of the hardware is original too, though some doorknobs have been replaced with antiques or period-appropriate new fabrications.

And the doorbell? I was too shy to ask.

You can probably feel Walt's presence the strongest in the private screening room, which was converted from one of the original bedrooms.

That's where he screened his dailies when he got into live-action features. And that's where the family would watch industry-provided reels of feature films, screened by a full-size projector.

Now, about the house's "haunted" reputation.

That may be because the neighboring Griffith Park is also notoriously haunted.

But it could be because of the Manson family murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

The couple was slain in a different house in 1969—but they'd been living at and owned the Woking Way house at the time.

No wonder this house tour came courtesy of a group called Haunted OC.

The Woking Way home is a private residence with a locked, gated entry. Please do your snooping from afar—or, sign up for an official tour like I did.

Related Posts:
The Ghost Train of Griffith Park
Photo Essay: Old Hollywood's Crossroads of the World, Before It Gets Swallowed Up By 'New' Hollywood
Photo Essay: The Dorothy Bembridge Murder Mansion