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The Bridges of Terminal Island (CA 47, CA 103)

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[Map scans 1976-1999 -- 155K] [Map scans 1957-1965 -- 152K] These (rather large) map collages show this route and other important nearby routes in (first image) 1947, 1957 and 1965, as well as (second image) 1976, 1984 and 1999. Click each thumbnail to open individual separate windows for each 150K-plus map graphic and prepare to scroll. ^^ Keep the windows open for reference through the rest of this photoessay.

This exhibit is in the process of reconstruction. Please pardon the older photography.

[47-103 and Bridge Map] In 1914, an event literally half a world away was to have a big impact on the Port of Los Angeles -- the opening of the Panama Canal. Now that transoceanic shipping was greatly facilitated with this vital new link, the Port found itself with bountiful new business, skyrocketing even more as import restrictions fell away after the end of World War I and trade volume soared. By the time of the Roaring Twenties, San Francisco's own bustling seaports had been eclipsed by their southern neighbour, which ranked second only to New York in foreign export tonnage. This meant lots of new infrastructure was needed, and it was needed in a hurry.

Much of this new business fell on Terminal Island, so named in 1871. Terminal Island was once known as Rattlesnake Island, a part of the 43,119 acre San Pedro rancho granted to Manuel Dominguez in 1858. (This particular rancho was a den for much of the illegal hide and tallow trade during the Spanish years.) His heirs would sell the island for about $250,000 to a St Louis concern anxious to quash Southern Pacific's threatened railroad shipping monopoly with a competing route. Their new acquisition was passed to the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad Company, which laid track from the east side of the Los Angeles River to their new holding, which they renamed Terminal Island. This relatively primitive crossing was the first of the Terminal Island bridges, circa 1911. Many of these early events are detailed on the Port of Los Angeles timeline.

[The Henry Ford Bridge] Unfortunately, by the 1920s, not much more had happened to improve getting to and from the island. For decades, private ferry service would remain the primary manner of getting workers, residents, goods and supplies back and forth, starting with a single rowboat in the 1870s up to a regular municipal ferry service to the San Pedro 6th St wharf in 1941. (This municipal service cost five cents each way, operating a morning auto and pedestrian ferry and then a second pedestrian-only wooden ferry that operated in the evenings.) As more companies moved their operations to the railroad terminus on the island, the demand for a more reliable crossing increased and paved the way for the construction of the Henry Ford Bridge in 1924. Designed by Joseph Baermann Strauss, who also designed San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and over 400 other structures, the Henry Ford Bridge used a so-called bascule, or quasi-drawbridge, structure to facilitate sufficient clearance for passing military and cargo ships (exceptional archival footage of the bridge's operation is shown on the Port of Los Angeles Virtual History Tour). Modifications to the bridge in the late 1930s replaced one of the sets of track with roadway to allow auto traffic, but this became a serious liability when the local shipyards were running at full swing during World War II. A temporary swing bridge was added to the Ford Bridge in 1941 pending the construction of a new and modern vertical-lift bridge with additional capacity alongside the Henry Ford in 1946: the Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Lift Bridge, depicted alongside the drawbridge-like Henry Ford "Badger Avenue" Bridge in the Port of Los Angeles archival photograph at right.

The Heim Bridge heralded the beginning of the third generation (the earliest crossing and the Henry Ford Bridge being the preceding two) of the island's bridges. Dramatically increased vehicular traffic, as well as cargo ship size, would dictate the need for larger span and higher clearance crossings, from which came the famous Vincent Thomas Bridge in 1963, and the Gerald Desmond Bridge in 1968 (replacing the earlier pontoon bridge between Long Beach and the island). With the destruction of the Henry Ford Bridge in 1996, replaced by a new liftbridge railroad extension to the Heim Bridge, this new generation of bridges represents the only link to the tumultuous history of the island and thus becomes the chief subject of this photoessay.

This area is covered by several primary routes, most notably I-110 (then old CA 11), I-710 (old CA 7), CA 47 and CA 103. When first created after the Great Renumbering in 1964, CA 47 came off CA 7 (which then ran along Seaside Parkway to then-CA 11) at the present-day "47-103" junction to run north along the Terminal Island Freeway, built starting in 1948. Then as today, the Terminal Island Fwy terminated at Willow St; the freeway was supposed to continue ultimately to the future I-10 ultimately as the Industrial Fwy, but was never built. In 1965, the portion of CA 7 between CA 11 and CA 47 was also given to CA 47. By 1982, CA 47 was moved to Henry Ford Avenue and Alameda Streets past the Heim Bridge, and what was left of the Terminal Island Fwy given to CA 103, a newly freed up route number after it was obliterated in San Diego by I-15. CA 103 north of CA 1 was later deleted, cutting the route down even more (but not relinquished, earning the designation "103U"). At least one proposal had CA 47 heading north as freeway directly from Terminal Island, not from the Heim Bridge; this seems to be indicated by the current signage (below). However, even though proposed as freeway its whole length, CA 47 presently remains on a primarily surface-street alignment -- save this short segment of freeway -- up to its eventual northern terminus.

Photographed February and March 2005.


Ocean Blvd @ Golden Ave in Long Beach, a convenient starting point.

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[Pontoon bridge, 1962] We U-turn at Golden and go southbound on "TO 47" (note this designation on the sign, as it becomes relevant later). This section of Ocean Blvd was previously part of CA 7. The first bridge we encounter is the Gerald Desmond Bridge, built in 1968 to replace the previous pontoon bridge and spanning 5,134'. Its namesake was a prominent Long Beach civic leader who served as a Long Beach city councilman and also as the city attorney.

The thumbnail at right shows a four frame movie sequence of the pontoon bridge the Desmond Bridge replaced (click the thumbnail for a 95K JPEG). The pontoon bridge is actually very well-known, having appeared most notably in Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which completed principal photography in 1962 and was released in 1963. During the chase scene where Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) is taking off with the suitcase, he crosses the pontoon bridge in a nice sequence showing off much of its component architecture. IAMMMMW is a historical roadgeek's dream, containing exceptionally clear photography of Southern California roads that can be easily identified today -- sometimes even appearing with street signs to exactly fix a location -- including CA 62, CA 74, CA 247, I-10, US 101 and US 101 ALT (Mark Furqueron's IAMMMMW highways page shows past and present images).

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The main span of the bridge, which we cross here, is 1,053' long and 250' above the water at its highest point. A project is currently on the books to replace it with a larger, taller structure, but to date has not been funded by the Port of Long Beach.

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A nice view of Terminal Island coming down the Desmond Bridge.

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The "47-103" interchange. Actually, despite what the sign might seem to imply, this is not CA 103's present southern terminus; this is just the intersection of Ocean Blvd with CA 47. We turn right.

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The dominant landmark on this stretch of CA 47 NB is the Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Lift Bridge, built in 1946 and the smallest of the three with a 3,976' total span. And, because this is truly CA 47 and not CA 47/CA 103, only a single CA 47 shield appears on this freeway entrance sign from New Dock Street beneath the bridge's initial span (because, as already explained, CA 103 actually doesn't start until after Anaheim Street; this seems to be part of the proposal to convert CA 47 to freeway all the way down to Ocean Blvd). The Henry Ford Bridge would have appeared to the right, when it existed, up to its demolition.

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Interesting signage on the way in. The Heim Bridge is a drawbridge with a vertical clearance of 38' when down and 163' when fully raised, and a horizontal clearance (read suspension span) of 180'. It is definitely showing its age, and Caltrans is slated to replace it at an unspecified point. The horn beneath the DRAW BRIDGE sign sounds warning blasts and the lights flash when the bridge is not safe to cross. The back sign says STEEL DECK with a picture of a presumably miserable motorcycle rider.

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Full portrait of the Heim Bridge. The grey gantry to the left is the lift for the railroad tracks, which took over the rail transit task when the Henry Ford was removed.

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Entering the bridge. During one point in my passes over this route, the bridge had apparently just been raised and was in the process of being lowered, but got down to the ground before I could get my camera out. However, it's a nice sign that the lift system not only still works, but is still useful.

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Passing through it.

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Control station on the Heim Bridge while passing by,

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Finally, we come to CA 103 at last, starting where CA 47 diverges at the Anaheim St exit (although the fact that CA 47 actually exits here isn't even marked). CA 103's beginning shield is shortly beyond this point. We exit here for a brief detour.

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Coming off the CA 103-CA 47 split towards the railroad tracks. This road isn't actually Anaheim St; once we travel past this intersection, it will become Henry Ford Avenue.

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Henry Ford Avenue and Anaheim St.

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It's startling how many CA 47 signs appear outside of its defined route. Purely by accident while chasing CA 7 markers on I-710 (see the CA 7 page), I came across this solitary CA 47 marker on Anaheim St at the I-710 interchange. (CA 47 is supposed to run on Alameda St; see the schematic.)

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In fact, as of this writing, there is even an CA 47 marker on the I-710 itself. (Look for it on the right of the NB side as you travel up from the "TO CA 47"/I-710 interchange, before the PCH exit.)

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Having had our fun, we turn back around through the intersection.

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Perplexing sign with obvious spelling error, faintly visible in the preceding picture, at the corner of the intersection (where Henry Ford proceeds off to the right). It doesn't seem to have been erected by the state, county or city. In fact, it doesn't have any obvious sign of who put it up.

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Back to CA 103. (Actually, you can't get there from the previous intersection; I had to pass through the Heim bridge south again, and loop back around on Ocean Blvd.) This is the begin shield just past the Anaheim St exit.

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Passing through the industrial sector on CA 103 NB.

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Passing over Anaheim St on CA 103 NB. Interesting configuration of streetlights (I'm told these are common in Arizona, but they're noteworthy in California).

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Northern terminus of CA 103, as stipulated in its present legislative definition, at CA 1 Pacific Coast Highway. However, the route has no end marker here and continues on as CA 103U "unrelinquished." It remains signed simply as CA 103, however (but there have been unrelinquished stretches of other routes signed with a "U" designation; see CA 14U).

The call box is in the picture on purpose; we'll discuss its significance in a moment.

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CA 1 has strange signage for CA 103. It signs -- not quite correctly, of course -- the interchange as CA 103, north and south, on the overpass (the signs used for both directions of CA 1 are identical as of this writing). This is facing Long Beach, as the city limit sign indicates. The southbound CA 103 is also commonly signed "Terminal Island."

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However, this sign near Technology Pl asserts that it's CA 47 NB from PCH northwards, even as the shield on the Freeway Entrance sign still says CA 103. This is probably back from when it really was CA 47, before being signed over to CA 103 (and now it's not even that).

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Old northern terminus of CA 103 (and, for that matter, CA 47) and the terminus of CA 103U at Willow St (right)/E Sepulveda Blvd (left). There is no END 103. We turn right ...

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... and make an immediate U-turn to go back towards the intersection, which has barely one somewhat obscured trailblazer shield.

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We go back on the CA 103 "U", now travelling south back towards Ocean Blvd.

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PCH again, and the beginning of true CA 103.

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If you remember the callbox from before, compare that (south of PCH) to this (north of PCH). At the PCH CA 1 intersection here, the callbox says CA 47, not CA 103, but the bridge marker says CA 103 (here's an enlargement). There are no obvious mileposts to disambiguate. Also compare this with the CA 47 NB sign we had before on PCH CA 1.

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A lovely view of the cranes and Desmond Bridge (well, *I* think it's lovely and I'll scratch the eyes out of anyone who says otherwise) passing south on CA 103, now CA 47 past the Anaheim St exit. By the way, there's no END 103 there either. We go back to the "47-103" junction, and proceed down CA 47 towards the Vincent Thomas Bridge (right turn from CA 47 SB).

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A large number of shipping berths are served by this stretch of CA 47.

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We now approach the Vincent Thomas Bridge, opened in 1963 at a cost of US$21 million and CA 47's most notable landmark. Its full span is 6,050' and was built to double code requirement, able to withstand winds as strong as 90mph; it is the third longest suspension span bridge in the state, following the Golden Gate and the Oakland Bay Bridges, respectively. It is the only suspension bridge in the world supported entirely on piles.

Vincent Thomas was a former California assemblyman (D-San Pedro), elected 1940, recognized as the person most responsible for its successful realization. The bridge was tolled until 2000; the original toll was 25 cents each way, with Assemblyman Thomas forking over the very first quarter. In 1983, the rates were changed to 50 cents westbound and free eastbound; I very dimly remember having to stop at the toll booths when my father worked in Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

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Superstructure of the Vincent Thomas, visible from Ferry St beneath it.

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More CA 47 signage oddities. This onramp from Ferry St, beneath the bridge, can't decide which direction it wants to go: the first sign insists the direction on the Vincent Thomas is west, but in the background, a second sign also calls it south.

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Coming up the bridge towards the main span.

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The main suspension span of the Vincent Thomas, which we cross here, is 1,500' with towers to 365' and a vertical clearance height of 185'.

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Another view of the port, although it was a little unfair to expect the camera to do a good job with this one.

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Southern "terminus" of CA 47, at I-110. We take Gaffey Street and loop around ...

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... to retrace CA 47 going north.

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Not a job I'd want (Caltrans riggers in orange jumpsuits on the main tower, see an enlargement). According to Caltrans, the Vincent Thomas is in a continuous state of repainting; the Port of Los Angeles asserts that the job requires 1,500 gallons of zinc, 500 gallons of primer and 1,000 gallons of green paint each time the span is covered. Compare this with the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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And, just for fun, one more CA 47 signing oddity: passing the "CA 47/CA 103" junction going north, this stretch of Ocean Blvd approaching the Desmond Bridge (correctly marked "TO 47" heading southbound [see above]) should not be part of CA 47. However, inexplicably, the northbound side actually carries a route marker, too.

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All images, photographs and multimedia, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © 2004-2014 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. All writeups are copyright © 2004-2014 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. Unauthorized copying or duplication without express consent of the copyright holder is strictly prohibited. Please contact the sitemaster to request permission if you wish to use items from this page.

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