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.

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