Los Angeles Metro As Art Haven

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Under the Palm trees, the traffic, and the juice bars of Los Angeles is a new Metro line filled with art. Each underground station has been given a theme to reflect the neighborhood above it. Some of the themes are so clever, that one almost needs a docent to explain it. Luckily, the metro line gives free art tours and I joined one to experience Los Angeles as an art haven beneath the earth.

My tour began at the 7th Street/Metro Center Station in central downtown Los Angeles. This busy station features the hand-painted ceramic tiled murals of JOYCE KOZLOFF. Her themes are The Movies: Fantasies, and The Movies: Spectacles. Her tiles feature famous characters from science fiction and horror films. They certainly brought back memories for me….I used to be very afraid of The Mummy!

Joyce Kozloff
Joyce Kozloff
Joyce Kozloff
guests look at Joyce Kozloff mural

The most fascinating and obscure art was on the red line at the Vermont/Sunset station. Titled Ecliptic/Illume by artist Michael Davis and architect Richard J. Diedrich. Up above the station is Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Kaiser Permanente, and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. The goals at this station as stated by these two visionaries were:

“I am strongly influenced by science and astronomy whose primary investigations seek the origins of life forms. The station site is, in a way, a concentration of the many resources which drive my work. I don’t want illness to be hidden. I want to introduce the young patients/patrons of the medical facilities to studies of medicine and science.” – Michael Davis

“The design incorporates a sequence of uniquely defined spaces which serve to orient patrons as they transition from the street to the train platform. The challenge was to humanize the station; collaborating with Michael addressed this by creating elements within the architecture with which people could relate. For me, one of the most exciting aspects of being an architect has become working with artists.” – Richard J. Diedrich

As I made my way through the station, I stepped on a number of “manhole” like circles. My guide explained that these were images from under a microscope. The plan was that employees from the hospital would explain them to patrons at the station and conversations would begin among strangers. Purposefully, no signs or descriptions of these “art pieces” are located in the station. I was able to guess one of them….

I guessed this one
Vermont/Sunset station “Ecliptic/Illume” artwork

One of the most popular stations is the Hollywood and Vine stop with the theme of “Hooray for Hollywood.” The station celebrates the glamour and excitement of “old” Hollywood when the film industry first began. Artist GILBERT LUJAN described his vision as  “light and power, fantasy and enchantment, glitz and glitter. The theater was the extension and satellite of Hollywood’s pervasive influence everywhere.” He lined the ceiling with old film reels, brought in two projectors from the 1930’s, and carved the notes to the song “Hooray For Hollywood” notated in the stair railing.

I never would have figured it out, but our guide explained that the floor was made of yellow bricks, and was intended to be a “yellow brick road.” Then she showed us some small wall tiles.


On the way up to the street, Chicano life in Los Angeles is celebrated.


Our final destination was Union Station…the hub of the metro system. This station opened in 1939 to consolidate rail services from a number of railroads (the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific) into one terminal station. The architecture of the station combines Art Deco, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne style. The waiting room with it’s high ceiling and moderne style leather chairs is breathtaking at this station. A little known fact is that the “wood ceiling” is actually steel.

The trip back home to Santa Monica was easy due to the newest leg of the metro that goes all the way to the coast. As I gazed out the window, I could see the tile artwork above ground at each metro stop. I was grateful to live in a city that cherishes it’s art and artists.

Happy metro riders
Tile art above ground at each station
The Metro

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