Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cypress Park's Underground Art Scene

Welcome to the Cypress Village Tunnel!
Los Angeles' subway tunnels have become known for their public art -- but there's another kind of tunnel in town that's known for its artistic installations as well.

The City of Los Angeles has some 100 pedestrian tunnels, which were initially built in the 1920s near elementary schools, as a way for schoolchildren to safely cross the street and avoid the dangers of automobiles and streetcars (sort of like the 20th century version of Safe Routes To School). Since the 1960s, though, these tunnels have become magnets for crime, tagging, public urination, garbage dumping, drug deals, and any other thing parents wouldn't want their kids to get near, so many of them got locked up for good, only to become oversized trash pits and general urban blight. Some were filled in and removed altogether.

In the Northeast Los Angeles community of Cypress Park, local Yancey Quinones, owner of nearby Antigua Coffee House on the corner,  worked with then-councilman Ed Reyes and the City's Public Works department to convert one of these abandoned pedestrian underpasses, located on the corner of north Figueroa and Loreto streets, into a public art gallery, known as the Cypress Village Tunnel Art Walk. The tunnel is the focus of monthly Art Walk events, which take place on the 2nd Saturday of each month.

A block party on Saturday to celebrate the tunnel's 1st birthday as an art space.
This past Saturday, Loreto Street was closed down for a mini-street fair to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the opening of the tunnel. There was music, poetry, an arts and crafts fair, and an overall Eastside-centric good time.

The Militant also got to go into the tunnel for the first time, and was fascinated by not just the temporary art on exhibit by local artists, but by the permanent art painted on its walls (the western end even has an homage to the Los Angeles River culvert cats!). The cubbyholes where the light fixtures go into are also part of the exhibit, used to not only hold lighting, but other art pieces.

But the most impressive thing about the tunnel is (aside from the noticeable absence of urine or any other offending odors) the comforting quiet, despite the cars, trucks and buses speeding along Figueroa Street just a few feet above you. That, and being with others who are not just enjoying the art but the odd serenity of the tunnel space. Something certainly never felt in such a utilitarian structure before.

The tunnel has also inspired other pedestrian tunnels in the city to be converted into art spaces, such as one in El Sereno. Man, the Eastside has got it goin' on!

Volunteers continue to decorate the tunnel
If you want to experience the Cypress Village Tunnel yourself, check out the next art walk event on Saturday, June 14 (the second Saturday of the month), from 6 to 10 p.m. The tunnel floods during rainstorms, so art walk events are usually cancelled in the event of rain (We're in a drought right now, so we wouldn't have to worry about that for a while, heh...).

The Militant just loves these kinds of transformative projects, done by the community and for the community. Does your neighborhood have a tunnel that can serve this kind of purpose?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

75 Years Of Union Station

Today was the 75th birthday of Los Angeles Union Station, and Metro, the station's current owner, threw a massive celebration there in the form of an early National Train Day event.

Like previous NTD events, there were entertainment stages, the classic Fred Harvey Restaurant space was opened up, a model train layout was on display, and people got to climb inside real ones.  This time around, we were given a glimpse of the station's future, in the form of wayfinding signs, interactive touchscreen displays, a photographic exhibit, and overall cleaning up and renovation of the station's original fixtures.

Known as "The Last Of The Great Train Stations" built in the United States, Union Station was not only the culmination of points west, but the great national rail travel era, which would soon give way to the airplane in the decades to come. The station was originally built in 1939 as a shared facility for the three major western railroads that served it: The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad, as before then, each railroad had their own station in the vicinity (all surrounding the Los Angeles River, incidentally).

Today, the station is no longer shared by three private railroads, but by three public transportation agencies: Metro, Metrolink and Amtrak, and after the "dark ages" of the 1970s and 1980s, the station experienced a revival in the early '90s when Metrolink and the Metro Red Line began serving the station.

Here's some pics from Saturday's 75th anniversary celebration:

Chuggington, the cheap substitute for Thomas. But iz cool.
This swing band played in the Harvey House restaurant space and brought it, 1939 style!
People dressed up in '30s-'40s cosplay. And they looked sharp. 
Can we please bring this look back?
If hipsters wore this instead, they would be hated less.
A big oversized iPad installed in the terminal now gives information about Union Station. 
People waited in long lines to walk through the classic old-school passenger cars!
And here's an old-school MTA bus! Wonder if it accepts TAP cards...
A Look Back At The 50th Anniversary

But this wasn't the first anniversary party for the classic Mission Revival/Streamline Moderne railroad terminal. Twenty-five years ago, the station, then owned by a company called Catellus, threw a golden anniversary bash on the weekend of May 6-7, 1989 to celebrate 50 years of service.

And The Militant was there!

Well, technically, it was the Mili-Teen, the younger version of The Militant, who hadn't quite earned his camo yet, but his interest, curiosity and pride for his hometown were nonetheless burgeoning even back then.

It was a similar event as today, but unlike today, the tracks weren't as active as are now. Back in the '80s, you'd have a handful of Amtrak trains roll in and out, and that was it for the day. On the positive side, and maybe because of the lack of activity on the platform tracks, it enabled the three railroads associated with Union Station's history to put some classic and modern trains on display.

The Santa Fe, the Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific all brought in some old-school steam streamliner diesel engines for public display, and some of them were set up where people can even walk inside! The steam locomotives were especially impressive, their whistles blew as loud as ships, probably echoing all over Downtown Los Angeles at the time.

One train display, though, changed The Mili-Teen's life. He had already known about the Metro Rail subway already being dug below the station, which has been under construction since 1986. But he knew its opening would be, like, eons away, sometime in the next decade.

But at the front of Union Station, he saw a 15-foot-long mockup of what looked like a rail vehicle. It was white with black trim, and blue stripes. It said "Los Angeles" on the front, but it looked nothing like the Metro Rail subway cars he'd seen in renderings.

He approached the information table and was pleasantly surprised to discover this was another rail line being built in town, that it would go to Long Beach, and best of all, it would open within next year!

It blew The Mili-Teen's mind.

The pamphlet called it "The Los Angeles-Long Beach Rail Transit Project." He saw the future. The world hadn't yet experienced the power of the phenomenon known as "Hammer Time," (though the MC wasn't totally unknown at the time). He knew people would be riding this thing before the subway opened. He then set himself on a quest to learn more about it...and the rest is history.

For The Mili-Teen, the 50th anniversary celebration of Union Station was a life-changing moment. He was able to experience both the past and the future on that day.

The Militant is proud to share some pictures from The Militant Archives:

This may or may not be a picture of the Mili-Teen!
There were some old school streamliner locomotives on display!
Even better - there were some old-school steam locomotives on display too!
Don't call it a "choo-choo," the whistles sounded like steamships!
A glimpse of the future: The Mili-Teen had his first encounter with the Metro Blue Line at this event!
Here's film footage of Union Station's 50th anniversary in 1989 filmed by K. Rutherford: