A One of a Kind Line

West
Monday, November 9, 2009
.
All aboard! The first stop on LAs newest light rail line

All aboard! The first stop on LA's newest light rail line

After more than a decade of waiting (up to 15 years, depending who you ask), a light-rail Breda train will depart for East L.A. from Union Station this Sunday, November 15 as part of Metro’s new Gold Line Eastside Extension. The eight-station line, with stops in Little Tokyo, Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, will offer continuing service on the first phase of the Gold Line, which heads northeast through Pasadena and was completed in 2003.

Frank Villalobos pointing out local businesses in Boyle Heights

Frank Villalobos pointing out local businesses in Boyle Heights

And today, I got to ride the shiny new rails on a private tour with 25 or so of my newest, closest friends, including Frank Villalobos, who acted as the lead architect for the project with his firm Barrio Planners.

The S-bridge over the 101, from the Little Tokyo side

The S-bridge over the 101, from the Little Tokyo side

The Gold Line is the only train that heads north and south out of Union Station (the rest of the trains, no matter what direction they come from, all terminate in the station, meaning they all roll into the railyard in the same direction and must reverse to get out). So this S-bridge that travels over the 101 freeway to the south is especially unique. The bridge was also built in a way so it never stopped traffic over the 101.

Water under the 1st Street Bridge

Water and an arch under the 1st Street Bridge

After swinging through the Little Tokyo/Arts District station, designed by Ted Tokio Tanaka, the line travels over the 1st Street Bridge, the 1929 structure which is currently being widened to accommodate the extra lanes of traffic. Bizarrely, all the historical elements from the bridge have been removed and are sitting down near the Los Angeles River below, like some kind of ruins.

The Mendez Learning Center in Boyle Heights

The Mendez Learning Center in Boyle Heights

The train then heads up into Boyle Heights and its first Eastside station, Pico Aliso, where the bright Mendez Learning Center on the corner was also designed by Barrio Planners and has obviously laid a cornerstone for new development. Each station has its own architectural team and artist that created a neighborhood-appropriate vision; for example, here Korajack Srivongse designed the arched canopies and Rob Neilson picked 25 faces from the community to place in their ironwork.

Powerwashing the floors for this weekends opening

Powerwashing the floors for this weekend's opening

After traveling along 1st Street, due to Boyle Heights’ narrowing roads, we plunged underground for two of the below-grade stations. We had to remain in the train so we couldn’t explore what these stations from the top down but it was a trip to see one of the Eastside’s most famous destinations rendered in Metro signage. William Villalobo and Alejandro de la Loza collaborated on Mariachi Plaza; Aziz Kohan and Nobuho Nagasawa did the second underground station, Soto.

Metallic cut-outs from Central American culture

Metallic cut-outs match roof panels from Central American culture

The Indiana station, where the line heads back into the right-of-way established by an old 1920’s electric car, includes a station designed by Larry Johanson with artwork by Paul Botello that references the carvings and patterns by Central American craftsmen.

The poppy-inspired canopies of East LA Civic Center

The poppy-inspired canopies of East LA Civic Center

We traveled down 3rd to Maravilla station (designed by Aspet Davidian with art by Jose Lopez) and then continued on to what is by far the most exciting station on the entire line, if not completely due to its design alone. A few blocks before arriving at the East LA Civic Center, the neighborhood explodes with bright mosaics from the Roybal Comprehensive Health Center, which zig zag into a bright green park with a lake at its center. The canopies here (designed by Villalobos with art by Clement Hanami) borrow from the vibrant colors as bright orange California poppies.

Metro project manager Henry Gonzalez and our fearless driver

Metro project manager Henry Gonzalez and our fearless driver

Finally, the tensile canopies of the Atlantic station (the end of the line, for now) point towards the future with a purposeful angle, designed by DMJM with art by Adobe LA. The tent-like structures–which look more than a little like Denver International Airport’s abstracted peaks–also hint at the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance.

Multiple celebrations (including mariachis, of course) will be taking place this Sunday to celebrate the Gold Line’s eastward advances. Stay tuned for a full AN review of the line and station design–including an all-important stop at King Taco–after it opens this weekend.

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