driving down the 163

the-163-from-the-Laurel-St-Bridge
 the drive down the 163, through Balboa Park, always made the trip from home (in Clairemont Mesa) to the airport pleasant. it’s entirely unlike any other drive you’ll take in such an urban setting.
the El Prado bridge connects the Hillcrest side of Balboa Park with the side of museums and the Zoo. (since this is a bridge theme, I will save any ode to Balboa Park and environs for another day.) (some people refer to it as the Laurel Street Bridge, but that street actually ends at Sixth Avenue.) it was built for the Panama-California Exhibition of 1915 to allow pedestrian and car access across the Cabrillo Canyon (which hosted grazing cattle until the late 19th century). the bridge was dedicated in 1914 by Franklin Roosevelt (then Assistant Secretary of the Navy), prior to the opening of the 1915 Exposition. Roosevelt returned as President in 1935 for Park’s second Exposition. due to the height of the bridge — flush with the rim of the canyon on both sides — traffic on the bridge is not visible from 163.

though initially designed to get people across the canyon to the museums of the Exhibition, the bridge has been used for many other purposes. not surprisingly, the height of the bridge proved attractive for despondent visitors and residents, including sailors. in it’s first 16 years, some seventeen people took advantage of the bridge for suicide, prompting the mayor and city officials to campaign to add some sort of preventative barrier. nothing came of it until 1950, when city workers installed wrought iron fencing on the parapets on both sides of the bridge. that didn’t stop people entirely from using it for suicidal purposes, though the completion of the Coronado Bay Bridge in 1970 provided a more effective means to that end. additionally, in 2008, a group of transients managed to penetrate an opening in the base of the bridge (for rainwater) on the north-facing side of the western edge of the bridge and constructed elaborate, multi-level housing structure inside the bridge. (very much like that episode of  This American Life, “The Bridge“.) they’ve closed up the holes now. don’t want to freak out drivers on the 163 or pedestrians on the bridge, I suppose — people use cars to avoid the problem of homelessness in San Diego, right?

the only time I ever walked over the bridge was when I went to visit last May and went on a rather sweeping walk from near the hospital in Hillcrest, through the park, past the zoo, and back over the Robinson Avenue Bridge. I made an effort to explore all kinds of “touristy” things while I was living in San Diego, but this walk was the kind of thing that you can only really appreciate once you’ve known a place and come back. (why would you take such along wander around Hillcrest on foot while you live there and could just as easily take your car?!) it was a lovely walk, as one would expect of San Diego in early May.

(got some of this info from Wikipedia, but a 2004 Union-Tribune article was much more useful)

Author: Erica

born in the midwest with wandering feet.