Los Angeles’ Original “Bridge to Nowhere”
by Geraldine Knatz, LACHS Board Member
Long before the term “Bridge to Nowhere” became an object of national ridicule in the early twenty-first century’s fight over congressional earmarking for impractical and unnecessary infrastructure projects, Los Angeles’ own Vincent Thomas Bridge was at one time dubbed a “bridge to nowhere.” Championed by Assemblyman Vincent Thomas who served 19 terms in California’s State Legislature, beginning in 1941, Thomas began his political career by introducing legislation to allow San Pedro to secede from Los Angeles. But it would be construction of the bridge that bears his name in San Pedro that would become his lasting legacy. The fight to build the bridge was not easy. Thomas’ detractors mocked his efforts calling the project the “bridge to nowhere.” But Thomas, a resident of San Pedro had campaigned on a promise to replace the ferry that thousands of cannery workers used to commute to and from their jobs on Terminal Island. It took half his legislative career, sixteen piece of legislation and three governors before Thomas secured his dream. Ground was broken on the new $21 million dollar bridge on May 28, 1960 and the bridge opened in 1963. Thomas would prove his detractors wrong as the bridge traffic exceeded all expectations, raising enough revenue to remove its toll booths after only twenty years instead of the original forecasted forty. At the bridge’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in 1988, events were held to raise funds for permanent decorative lights for the bridge’s main cables. Thomas had died in 1980 but his wife Mary (nee Di Carlo) had the commemorative coin made as a memento. Later copies of the medal were sold to raise money for the San Pedro Bay Historical Society.
In January, 2005, after 17 years of planning and fundraising, 160 Blue LED lamps, powered by solar power, were installed at a cost of over $1 million.