Bridge to the Past
Published Apr 1, 2011 8:00 AM
From the files of the UCLA History Project ...
When ground was broken at UCLA's new Westwood campus in May 1927, the first priority was to construct a bridge to cross the deep arroyo that divided the east and west parts of the site.
Modeled after the Roman aqueducts by University of California supervising architect George W. Kelham, the bridge was necessary for transporting construction supplies over the chaparral-covered ravine and was originally intended to be UCLA's main entryway. Mules pulled materials including cement sacks, lumber and bricks over the Arroyo Bridge from the east entrance on Hilgard Avenue.
The reinforced concrete walls of the bridge contained three huge arches, and Kelham's Romanesque design featured intricate rosette and diamond patterns of carved limestone and inlaid red brick, with decorative parapets and a series of smaller arches running along the upper portion of the structure. It stood approximately 300 feet long, 75 feet wide and 50 feet above the arroyo.
Hailed as the "avenue to the future," the $100,000 Arroyo Bridge was dedicated at a ceremony officiated by Associated Students President Thomas J. Cunningham and attended by California Gov. C.C. Young on October 22, 1927, officially marking the completion of the first structure on campus.
"In opening this bridge, we are opening the portals for a new era in the history of the university," Cunningham said.
Over the years, the bridge has become a storied part of UCLA's history. During the Great Depression, it provided shelter for impoverished students. In wartime, when the Japanese were targeting the California coast via submarine, enough food was reportedly stored beneath it to feed 50,000 people — in case of attack.
Anticipating burgeoning enrollments in the postwar years as veterans sought higher learning under the GI Bill, administrators planned additional buildings to accommodate them. In the summer of 1947, concrete slabs were built as retaining walls along the edges of the bridge as the arroyo was filled with thousands of cubic yards of soil to increase the amount of useable property on the campus.
Explore more of the university's groundbreaking moments at the UCLA History Project.
To coincide with UCLA's 75th anniversary in 1994, administrators considered excavating the south side to create an amphitheater — but it didn't come to pass because of financial considerations.
Today, the bridge's arches remain hidden underground at Dickson Court, largely ignored by the many crossing it daily. A sign cautions a weight restriction, and it continues to be inspected to meet safety and earthquake standards.
It is, after all, still a functioning bridge.