“Art’s a Trip”: A Tour of Metro’s Artwork

“Art’s a Trip”: A Tour of Metro’s Artwork

The L.A. Metro stations are turned into art galleries every first Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday of the month.

While many Angelenos aren’t aware of the Metro Rail system itself, many Angelenos who use the Metro Rail don’t recognize the intricate, commissioned art which graces virtually all Metro stops. Beyond those who do recognize the commissioned artwork, people don’t realize that free, roundtrip tours are given of this commissioned artwork!

In 1989, the Metro Art program commissioned over 250 artists to produce a “multi-layered cultural tapestry” which embellishes Metro stops. The 250 artists are all established artists, chosen through a peer-reviewed process contributed to through community consultation. The artists were tasked with creating both temporary and permanent installations which mirror both LA County’s contemporary and popular cultures. The artworks needed to be robust (capable of surviving 40-50 years), topical, as well as relevant to the surrounding location where each Metro stop is situated.

Each tour is led by a member of the Metro Art Docent Council, and no two tours are alike.

Each docent is a passionate volunteer who leads a unique, approximately two hour roundtrip tour. Since each docent is different and gives a different tour, you could ostensibly take the tour every first Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, and experience 36 different tours per year. Even if you have a TAP Card, the docent will give you a pre-loaded day card.

I attended the Sunday tour based out of Union Station. While I admit, it was difficult to get up and get myself downtown by 10:00am, the experience was well worth it. Not only are you surrounded by like-minded people, but you’re exposed to the intricacy and level of investment L.A. has imbued our city with. My tour began out of Union Station and included exclusive access to typically off-limits sections of Union Station. I learned not only about the history of Union Station but the architecture as well.

Since I can’t help but share a snippet of what I’ve learned about Union, here it is in brief: Union Station was built in 1939 and is now known as the last of the great railways. Union Station is situated on L.A.s former Chinatown. Sad, but not uncommon even today, is how eminent domain was used to evict Chinese residents and businesses of the time, thanks to the Parkinson Brothers who built Union. A sculpture located in Union’s East Wing was created by May Sun, and the sculpture is built partially from artifacts recovered from this old Chinatown eviction.

Remember a rule of three when you’re at Union: Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal hosted a controversial number of railways: three (Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific). Prior to Union, railways were serviced by private companies. The contemporary equivalent would be if we flew out of private airports: Delta Airport, Southwest Airport, United Airport, etc. This unique alliance of companies led to Union Station’s name since it unified three companies. Up to this day, union still hosts three companies: Metrolink, Amtrak, and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). Architecturally, the rule of three continues! The three architectural styles which comprise the interior and exterior of Union are Art Deco in the archways, motif/Spanish Colonial as seen in the tiling, and Mission Modern as seen in the ticket counters. Once you recognize these three architectural styles by name, you cannot stop seeing the three across Los Angeles.

In the Metro stops, each artwork is intended to enhance the transit experience, and the artwork is site-specific. For example, the Hollywood/Vine Metro stop is located near the Pantages Theater. Because of its location, the Hollywood/Vine Metro stop mirrors the glitz and glam of Hollywood through its Wizard of Oz theme. The green, translucent overhang through which passengers descend, portrays the Emerald City, while the yellow tiling emulates the yellow brick road. All ceilings are required to have perforated metal, hence the film reels which decorate the ceiling. The tiles lining the hallways represent Hollywood through Chicano car culture, but with dogs as the starring characters. The edging around the elevators is explicitly film strips, and the giant metal palm trees were rumored to have been on a production set of Lucille Ball’s.

While our NoHo Metro stop wasn’t featured on the tour I took, I can tell you that Anne Marie Karlsen devised and applied the artwork adorning the North Hollywood Red Line stop in 2000.

Yet another reason to support Metro is that for every Metro dollar, one cent is allocated towards art. The beauty of Los Angeles is highlighted in how L.A. continues to invest in itself through the arts.

Exhibition:                 Metro Art Tours

Where & When:        à Saturdays – Meet at the street level entrance to the Hollywood/Highland Metro Rail Station. `         

[10am – 12pm]

à Sundays – Meet at the information booth inside the entrance to historic Union Station

[10am – 12pm]

àThursdays – Meet at the street level entrance to the Hollywood/Highland Metro Rail Station

[7pm – 9pm]

*All docents will be wearing orange, reflective vests

Lines Featured:         Metro Red Line

                                    Metro Purple Line

Metro Gold Line