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How far can I spawn a gap between posts on a load bearing wall?

I have an entry way from the living room to the dining room / kitchen area that I would like to expand. How far can I span across and meet up with double or triple studs on the other side? Also, there is a diagonal board going across the studs (1x6), which I don't understand and would also remove.

Picture from attic, the angled boards shown converge on the wall in question (it is perpendicular to the joints), but they only do that 5 times across the whole length of the house.

enter image description here

Here is a picture of the wall from the kitchen / dining area. Obviously they felt it could span the entry way (which I want to expand). Also that wall is not continuous, when it gets to the stairway it goes 80 inches without any support before another wall shows up.

enter image description here

There is also a diagonal board going across the studs (it is a 1x6). I am not sure what its purpose is, and whether I can remove it.

enter image description here

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Diagonal board = shear wall. It not only supports load but is also triangulated to prevent wracking in the house structure. You have entered structural engineer territory as this wall does more than you think it does and is beyond DIY at this point. – Fiasco Labs Jun 1 '14 at 19:45
@FiascoLabs: I think that's "racking"... – keshlam Jun 1 '14 at 21:18
Heh, yeah, racking leads to "wrack and ruin". – Fiasco Labs Jun 1 '14 at 23:44

Substantial changes to a load-bearing wall really an engineer's review. The consequences of getting it wrong are unacceptable.

When it came time to take out a loadbearing wall in my place, I hired a contractor, who brought in an engineer to calculate exactly what size parallam beam would be needed to span the gap and how to provide the necessary support below the remaining stubs of wall which were now taking the additional load.

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Well from your picture it looks like you can open it about 10 inches to the right. You would need a longer and more substantial header possibly but at 10 inches you hit your shear diagonal support. From there you are talking about an engineer moving the weight off of that support and putting it somewhere else.

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