Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bridges to Terminal Island, Part 2

The Badger Avenue Bridge (later the Henry Ford Bridge) looks mighty lonesome back in the 1920s.

In addition to the Gerald Desmond Bridge on the east side of Terminal Island, and the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which has connected the west side of the island to San Pedro since 1963, two spans connect the north side of the island to the mainland. The Henry Ford Bridge and the Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Bridge run parallel to each other, the first carrying rail traffic and the second trucks and autos along the Terminal Island Freeway.

Both are drawbridges that open to allow shipping traffic to pass along the Cerritos Channel, the waterway that connects the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Controls for raising and lowering the Ford Bridge.
The Henry Ford Bridge came first, in 1924, when it was known as the Badger Avenue Bridge (the Ford plant was built next to it in 1930). Photos at the time show the elegant structure rising incongruously out of the mudflats surrounding it. The bridge's designer, Joseph Strauss, was a few years later the chief engineer and one of the designers of the Golden Gate Bridge -- he also wrote poems about the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sequoia redwoods. After the jackknife bridge was removed from the eastern end of Terminal Island in the mid-'30s, the Ford Bridge became the only rail link to the mainland. The original bridge was replaced in 1996 and now serves as a gateway to the Alameda Corridor, the 20-mile rail cargo expressway linking the ports to rail yards east of downtown Los Angeles.

Next to the Ford Bridge is the Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Bridge, named for the commander of the Terminal Island Navy base during World War II. The bridge was built shortly after World War II (and paid for by the Navy). The Heim is part of the 47/103 Freeway and the heavy truck traffic has taken its toll on the bridge; a project is being planned by the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority and Caltrans to replace the drawbridge with a fixed bridge -- you can read about the project here.

Perhaps more interesting than the Heim's planned replacement is its appearance in movies and television shows over the years, the Terminal Island Freeway being (like Shoreline Drive) one of those thoroughfares that's fairly easy to close off for filming with a relative minimum of traffic disruption. Recently, the Heim had a prominent role in Inception -- the heroes' van falls off the bridge to provide them with their "kick" (if you don't know what we're talking about you'll have to see the movie), but here's the scene in question.

And a classic: Mike Connors runs across the Heim at the beginning of every episode of Mannix, to the accompaniment of one of Lalo Schifrin's best themes -- you can check that out here.

We know lots of other films and TV shows have filmed on and around the Heim and Ford bridges and the Terminal Island Freeway (Terminator 2, a couple of the Lethal Weapon movies, for instance), so if you know of any or have any stories about filming, post a comment here and share.

Photo gallery of the Ford and Heim bridges

Pictorial history of the Vincent Thomas Bridge at the Port of L.A. site

The Schuyler F. Heim Bridge today with the replaced Henry Ford Bridge behind it, looking west.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bridges to Terminal Island, Part 1

The bascule or "jackknife" bridge, probably in the 1910s.

Since its earliest days in the 1910s, the Port of Long Beach has needed reliable access to Terminal Island. The first bridge from Long Beach to the island was a single railroad track built on a wooden trestle by the Salt Lake Railway. By 1908, though, it was clear something better (and something that didn't block access to Craig Shipyard) was needed. So in that year the trestle was replaced with a 187-foot bascule drawbridge, commonly referred to as the "jackknife" bridge, because it opened and closed just like a pocket knife.

The jackknife bridge was in place for years, but at some point during the mid-1930s it was removed when the Union Pacific stopped using it. Incredibly, there was no bridge there for several years, leaving the Badger Avenue Bridge (now known as the Henry Ford Bridge) over the Cerritos Channel as the only rail link to Terminal Island. (We'll have more on this bridge in Part 2 of this post.)

Driving over the pontoon bridge had its ups and downs.
When World War II came along, the Navy needed better access to and from its station and shipyard on Terminal Island. So a pontoon bridge was constructed that could be opened and closed to allow ship traffic to pass into and out of the harbor. The pontoon bridge was intended to be a temporary structure in place for six months, but it was used for decades. Many longtime Long Beach residents can tell stories about crossing the peculiar span, which literally floated on the mouth of the L.A. River. Drivers, especially when alcohol was involved, would occasionally go over the side into the water, and traffic would often back up along Ocean Boulevard when ships passed through. In 1946, the Spruce Goose was transported over the pontoon bridge -- you can read more and see pictures here.

In the 1960s, the pontoon bridge was replaced by the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which eliminated the need for a movable bridge and could handle much larger traffic volumes. These days, time and traffic have taken their toll on the Desmond (nets called "diapers" are placed underneath it to catch chunks of concrete), and the bridge is slated for replacement beginning next year. The new bridge will allow the largest post-Panamax ships to enter the Port, as well as accommodate more traffic. For more information on the replacement project, go to

Read a Steve Harvey L.A. Times column about the pontoon bridge.

See a photo gallery of the Terminal Island bridges.

Traffic congestion could be a problem sometimes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Goose picture

Reader John Fry wrote in with this great picture (taken June 15 or 16, 1946) and note (you can click on the picture to blow it up):
"I've been going through some family negatives.  We lived in Navy Housing at West Willard and Santa Fe in the late 1940s.  I believe this is me pointing to the Spruce Goose heading down Santa Fe.  I turned 3 on October 4, 1946."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Koppel Grain Terminal

A Greek freighter picks up a load of wheat at the Koppel Grain Terminal on Pier F soon after its opening in 1961.

For 50 years, one of the more distinctive buildings dotting the Port of Long Beach's skyline has been a set of silos on Pier F.

A worker takes a sample of grain from a conveyor belt inside the silos.
These silos were dedicated in October 1961 as the Koppel Grain Terminal (on Pier A, as it was called then). Built at a cost of $2.5 million (about $19 million in today's dollars), the facility when it opened could load ships at the rate of 1,300 tons per hour and unload them at 150 tons per hour, and also had a mechanism for quickly unloading rail cars by tipping them on their sides.

In 1979, the grain terminal was taken over by Agrex, Inc., a subsidiary of Mitsubishi, and in 1987 the grain facility was converted to handle petroleum coke for Koch Carbon, and it is still in operation today.

Click here to see a photo gallery of the terminal then and now.

The terminal today is a facility for petroleum coke.