Rebranding A Bridge

The City of Pasadena would really appreciate if we would stop calling one of the region's most iconic structures "Suicide Bridge."

The historic Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena also called Suicide Bridge.
The historic Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, also called Suicide Bridge.

The City of Pasadena would really like it if folks would stop referring to the Colorado Street Bridge as the “Suicide Bridge.”

When it was completed in 1913, the bridge, which rises 150 feet over Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco, was the tallest concrete bridge in the world. Regarded by many as a work of art, the gracefully arched bridge quickly became a magnet for suicide seekers and soon earned its morbid nickname.

“We’re trying to rebrand the bridge,” says Pasadena’s Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian. “We want it known for its history and beauty. We don’t want it known for the attempted and successful suicides.”

The bridge is, after all, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a gorgeous example of Beaux Arts architecture and serves as a vital and significant part of Pasadena’s growth.

A frequent and distinctive filming location, the Colorado Street Bridge made a much-hyped appearance in the hit film “La La Land” a couple of years ago. In fact, the bridge has its own IMDb page, with 14 film credits. The bridge was formerly part of Route 66, and it serves as a pilgrimage destination for fans of engineer and bridge designer Joseph Alexander Low Waddell, also credited with interstate bridges in Washington, Oregon and Ohio.

“It’s an iconic entry of the city, it’s a beautiful bridge,” says Pasadena Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Paul Little. “Along with Pasadena City Hall, which is another iconic building, and the Rose Bowl, the bridge is one of the top three architectural landmarks in the city.”

Which makes it all the more upsetting to city leaders and residents that people sometimes make their way to the Colorado Street Bridge to kill themselves.

Since its construction, more than 100 people have jumped to their death from the bridge. That data might pale in comparison to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, which, according to recent data, has had over 1,600 jumpers since its completion in 1937. But Pasadena’s leaders are just as determined to deter suicides as their counterparts up north. The Golden Gate Bridge plans to complete its $200 million suicide net in 2021. Pasadena is searching for solutions of its own.

A 1989 renovation added an 8-foot-tall fence along the Colorado Street Bridge’s span, and last June, the city installed 10-foot-high mesh metal fencing across and at either end of the bridge as an additional suicide deterrent.

According to Derderian, there have been two successful suicides since the 2017 fence went up — and none in early 2018. A task force, formed a year ago, has dedicated itself to researching more permanent deterrent options. The Pasadena City Council recently began soliciting design proposals for permanent vertical barriers along the bridge. Basically, this would make it harder for someone to jump off the bridge — but they won’t be able to fully prevent suicide attempts. And according to Lieutenant Jason Clawson of the Pasadena Police Department, those truly determined to jump to their deaths could simply find another way. 

But it’s the Colorado Street Bridge that seems to draw those looking to end their lives. Clawson says Pasadena employs a HOPE (Homeless Outreach and Psychological Evaluation) team that pairs a police officer with a clinical social worker to try to talk down a would-be jumper. Programs like this, along with temporary and permanent fencing, are seen as Pasadena’s best tools for thwarting Colorado Street Bridge suicides.

 “I recognize that there are concerns and they’re trying to make it less attractive to people who want to jump, but I’m hoping that the end result is something that’s as elegant as the bridge is,” Little says.

Despite the bridge’s glamorous resume, it’s tough to get over a suicide moniker while simultaneously working to prevent suicides with tax dollars and community input.

“It’s had that nickname almost since it opened,” Little says, “and I think that’s just one of those things that’s gonna stick no matter what.”

Keep reading: Seven years after Ronni Chasen’s murder, despite the suicide of a suspect and a closed case for the Beverly Hills Police Department, the crime remains shrouded in mystery.

Beth Spotswood is Alta's digital editor, events manager, and a contributing writer.
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