If you want to film a car chase in Los Angeles, here’s the playbook. Head downtown. If you’re coming from the west, exit the I-10 freeway at Grand Avenue. Then turn north, maybe on Alameda, where you’ll speed past warehouses and fast-food spots and strip joints. When you get to Sixth Street, maneuver around to Santa Fe Avenue, named after the old railroad line. At this point, Sixth Street is now elevated, running above you. As soon as you’re in the shadows of the overhanging structure, make a hard left. Suddenly, you’re in a long, unlit tunnel. The only daylight comes out of a rectangular opening a few hundred yards ahead of you. Hit the gas (everybody does) and when you burst into the light, pull the wheel hard to the left and head north.
What you’ve just done is illegal—you need a permit—but you’ve arrived, and you know this spot. You’re underneath the Sixth Street Viaduct, the most iconic and most beautiful (at least according to general consensus) of the 13 pre-World War II spans that traverse the city’s eponymous river, separating downtown from East Los Angeles. You might recognize it from the 1978 film Grease, where it was the site of John Travolta’s climactic drag race. Or, in digitized form, from Grand Theft Auto, the video game that seeks to train junior carjackers and flesh traders. Or from Them, the 1954 classic of paranoid science fiction, featuring giant irradiated ants that crawled from the very tunnel you just exited. Or from dozens upon dozens of music videos, from Kanye West to Madonna to Kid Rock.
According to Film L.A., the organization that helps the film industry book municipal locations, over 80 movies, television shows, music videos, and commercials are shot on or underneath the Sixth Street Viaduct each year. That’s partially because of the bridge’s swooping metal arches, perched on an art-deco concrete platform; and partially because of the river underneath and that access tunnel: if you want to film something set in Los Angeles that makes reference to the city’s automotive culture, or if you’re just looking for a place to shoot a car chase that’s cheaper and more available than a clogged freeway, the channelized, concretized bed of the Los Angeles River is your best choice.