Metro Presents: contemporary jazz by Mark de Clive-Lowe at Union Station July 31

Don’t miss the next Metro Presents event: jazz and dancing with Mark De Clive-Lowe and his musicians at Los Angeles Union Station on Thursday, July 31. The event will take place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. inside the Fred Harvey Room and will be free to the public. Make sure to bring your dancing shoes!

The performance is part of Metro Presents, the agency’s ongoing program of arts and cultural events at the iconic station. It is presented in partnership with Mercado La Paloma. Union Station is accessible via Metro Rail, Metro Bus and several municipal bus lines. Use Trip Planner for routes and connections. Car and bicycle parking are also available on site.

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Reflections on Union Station: an essay by D. J. Waldie

waldie_ceiling
On the occasion of Union Station’s 75th anniversary, Metro created a special commemorative publication, Union Station: 75 Years in the Heart of LA, featuring eight written and five photographic essays that celebrate the station by authors John C. Arroyo, William D. Estrada, Stephen Fried, Rafer Guzman, David Kipen, Marisela Norte, D. J. Waldie, and Alissa Walker. The book is on sale now at the online Metro Store. All essays are posted on The Source. The series was edited by Linda Theung, an editor and writer based in Los Angeles.

Union Station: Time and Again
by D. J. Waldie

If it’s possible for a place to have memories of its own, then Union Station in Los Angeles is such a place. It’s also the hub of Metro’s regional transit system and a railroad terminal—people hustle through Union Station for those reasons—but the patient sojourner who sits in one of the throne-like chairs in the waiting room or steps into the adjacent patios inevitably slips out of the everyday and into the station’s own time.

Time was when a giant sycamore shaded native Tongva elders debating village disputes a few hundred feet from where the station’s tracks would be laid. The arrival of Spanish colonists from Sonora and Sinaloa in 1781 swept aside the elders and the village. The sycamore lived on—more than sixty feet high, spreading nearly two hundred feet—until it was felled in 1892.

Later still, the neighborhood that grew up around the sycamore was so culturally diverse that Chinese herbalists dealt from clapboard shops next to tenements occupied by exiled pacifist Russian Molokans and refugees from Mexico’s revolutions. The shops and the tenements were razed by 1936 for the building of Union Station.

Some of the Mexican refugees had already become vendors on Olvera Street. Some of the Chinese moved to New Chinatown not far away. By design, the builders of Union Station reframed the image of Los Angeles for tourists. Some of their first sights would be fantasies of exoticism.

To arrive at the station most travelers would have passed through the San Fernando Valley, quartered into orchards and ranches in the 1940s and subdivided into suburban house lots in the 1950s. As they neared the station, their train would have followed the trace of the Los Angeles River, an open wash in 1939, but by 1945, already a concrete-lined channel in the making.

Arriving passengers in those years would have stepped down from their Pullman car, walked the echoing tunnel beneath the tracks, and entered the station—a space both monumental and deferential, designed to impress and reassure. Outside, Los Angeles sprawled and brawled and offered the traveler the option, if he was willing to pay the price, to endlessly reinvent himself.

Inside, in the minute or two it took to walk beneath the painted ceilings and past the waves of colored tile on the walls, Union Station would have had just enough time to say to the new arrivals, “You’ve come to Los Angeles where brilliant light is dominant, but see how it’s tempered by this space, these fountains, and these flowering trees.” The travelers’ first experience of Los Angeles would have been that transformed brightness.

North Patio

North Patio

South Patio

South Patio

Commuters arriving at Union Station today aboard the Metro Red and Purple Lines or Metrolink and Amtrak trains pass through that same light, unchanged in seventy-five years. Marble blocks in the floor are grooved from the tread of vacationers, aspiring starlets, and the unremarked mass of those embracing or abandoning Los Angeles—and, if you cannot put yourself in their shoes, you can put yourself in the light they encountered. It puts you outside of ordinary time. It’s still the light of nowhere else but Union Station.

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Reflections on Union Station: an essay by Rafer Guzman

guzman_5_attract_UnionStn_01_resize On the occasion of Union Station’s 75th anniversary, Metro created a special commemorative publication, Union Station: 75 Years in the Heart of LA, featuring eight written and five photographic essays that celebrate the station by authors John C. Arroyo, William D. Estrada, Stephen Fried, Rafer Guzman, David Kipen, Marisela Norte, D. J. Waldie, and Alissa Walker. The book is on sale now at the online Metro Store. All essays will also be posted on The Source in the coming weeks. The series was edited by Linda Theung, an editor and writer based in Los Angeles.

Six Degrees of Union Station
by Rafer Guzman

Stick around Los Angeles long enough, and you’re bound to end up in a movie. It’s a rule that applies mostly to humans, but as any location scout can tell you, it’s also true about buildings.

Union Station clearly has a face and figure made for the movies. Its Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and Art Deco ornamentation—a stylistic combination nicknamed Mission Moderne—has always made it a distinctive presence. Yet it hasn’t become as famous as, say, the ubiquitous Capitol Records building, the cylindrical tower at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street seen in too many movies to count, or the Griffith Observatory, immortalized as the site of James Dean’s existential freak out in Rebel Without a Cause. The station has been more like a character actor: dependable, versatile, but always recognizable. Its onscreen career has been marked by memorable appearances, big breaks, near misses, prolific stretches, lean periods, and, later in life, rediscovery. (It’s no secret that the seventy-five-year-old station has had some “work” done, including a facelift in 2013.)

You might call Union Station a supporting cast member, like a Karl Malden or Stanley Tucci, an actor who rarely takes the lead but nevertheless shines in the background. Over the years, the station has played a wide range of roles, from a bank in the 1960s (the 2002 period piece Catch Me if You Can) to a library in 1997 (Most Wanted). But it also tends to play itself, or some version of itself. Like a lot of great actors, Union Station is at its best when it finds a part that suits its persona—in this case, a grand, dramatic space with the unmistakable ambiance of the golden age of Hollywood.

It’s no accident that some of Union Station’s earliest roles were in film noir. There’s an inherent drama to a train station—a place of hellos and goodbyes, of thronging crowds and lonely anonymity—that suits the genre. You can see Union Station in a small but standout role in Criss Cross, a 1949 Robert Siodmak picture starring a baby-faced Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo (well before her career playing the matriarch in television’s The Munsters). The movie sticks mostly to generic backdrops—the dark alley, the dive bar—until Union Station shows up about halfway through. Suddenly, Criss Cross comes alive as the two stars zigzag through the station’s marble-lined spaces, each time missing each other by a narrow margin. Then, of course, comes the fateful moment.

Promotional poster for Criss Cross. Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC.

Promotional poster for Criss Cross. Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC.

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Reflections on Union Station: an essay by John C. Arroyo

arroyo_chandelier
On the occasion of Union Station’s 75th anniversary, Metro created a special commemorative publication, Union Station: 75 Years in the Heart of LA, featuring eight written and five photographic essays that celebrate the station by authors John C. Arroyo, William D. Estrada, Stephen Fried, Rafer Guzman, David Kipen, Marisela Norte, D. J. Waldie, and Alissa Walker. The book is on sale now at the online Metro Store. All essays will also be posted on The Source in the coming weeks. The series was edited by Linda Theung, an editor and writer based in Los Angeles.

Union Station: Los Angeles’ Enduring Symbol of Civic Optimism
by John C. Arroyo

I grew up in unincorporated East Los Angeles, a few minutes east of Union Station and the Los Angeles River. I recall the Rapid Transit District—the predecessor of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)—and their white buses wrapped in 1970s retro-inspired red, orange, and yellow stripes. I remember taking the No. 68 bus from the corner of Gage Avenue and Brooklyn Avenue (present-day Avenida César E. Chávez) into downtown and exiting at Alameda Street, near the grand entrance to Union Station. I was in constant awe of the building and the city surrounding it.

My mother, a native Angeleno, appreciated local history and culture and instilled the same kind of fervor in me. I remember going to El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument to light candles at La Placita or to eat carnitas tacos with fresh, handmade tortillas at La Luz del Día, and then crossing the street to marvel at Union Station’s painted ceilings and large, ornate chandeliers. My mother always mentioned how she liked the beautiful leather seats inside the grand waiting room. Later, when I was in my 20s, I trained to be an official Union Station docent to guide the Los Angeles Conservancy’s monthly tour of the station. I found out that the leather seats were custom built by the Angelus Furniture Company, a now-defunct, but previously legendary and independent local furniture shop located in East Los Angeles. Coincidentally, the company also supplied much of the furniture in my childhood home.

Union Station's original brown leather seating from Angelus Furniture Company, the now-defunct, but previously legendary local furniture shop located in East Los Angeles.

Union Station’s original brown leather seating from Angelus Furniture Company, the now-defunct, but previously legendary local furniture shop located in East Los Angeles.

One thing that always struck me about my visits to Union Station was how quiet it was. As a child during the 1980s I vividly remember seeing pigeons flying around the station (especially in the former Ticket Concourse). Whenever my family took the bus from Union Station to Bakersfield, transferring to the Amtrak San Joaquin line to visit family in California’s Central Valley, the trains were nearly empty.

At the time I was too young to understand Union Station’s untapped potential, which changed after I embarked on a career in urban planning and design. In many ways my decision to be an urban planner allowed me to understand the forces that promote—and impede—successful public spaces. With time and subsequent experience I put my technical charts and graphs aside and learned how to interpret the relationship between physical form, social experience, and culture firsthand. I learned to read the city.

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Reflections on Union Station: an essay by Stephen Fried

The former Fred Harvey restaurant as it looks today.

The former Fred Harvey restaurant as it looks today. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

On the occasion of Union Station’s 75th anniversary, Metro created a special commemorative publication, Union Station: 75 Years in the Heart of LA, featuring eight written and five photographic essays that celebrate the station by authors John C. Arroyo, William D. Estrada, Stephen Fried, Rafer Guzman, David Kipen, Marisela Norte, D. J. Waldie, and Alissa Walker. The book is on sale now at the online Metro Store. All essays will also be posted on The Source in the coming weeks. The series was edited by Linda Theung, an editor and writer based in Los Angeles.

The Comfort Foodists of Union Station
by Stephen Fried

When the Southwest Chief pulls into L.A. after our overnight trip from Winslow, Arizona, it’s pretty early to be waking up in a train station. My wife and I tumble out of our sleeper compartment and, faces still as wrinkled as our clothes, drag our bags in uncaffeinated silence off the platform and into the cavernous waiting room—taking in what Jonah’s view might have been like if swallowed by a Mission Moderne Style whale.

While our eyes aren’t yet completely open, and we’ve never been in this building before, we seem to just know where to go, as if American train passengers are just born with the ability to find their way to the front door of the Fred Harvey restaurant

Fred Harvey postcard. From Appetite for America, courtesy of the Michael McMillan Collection.

Fred Harvey postcard. From Appetite for America, courtesy of the Michael McMillan Collection.

This particular door is all glass, like the forty-foot-high wall it’s part of, and we put our noses up against panes to try and get a better view of America’s last great railroad restaurant—and the crowning achievement in the career of landmark architect and designer Mary Colter, one of the few woman architects of that era. While her quirky tables—which, along with the booths, created all kinds of intimate corners in what would otherwise feel like an Art Deco plane hangar—are now long gone, the room still glistens with nostalgia and production values and promise. And the most ingenious part of her design—a cement tile floor that resembles a football-field sized Navajo rug—looks like it was just installed and buffed yesterday.

Fred Harvey company architect Mary Colter. From Appetite for America, courtesy of the Mary Larkin Smith Collection, Grand Canyon National Park.

Fred Harvey company architect Mary Colter. From Appetite for America, courtesy of the Mary Larkin Smith Collection, Grand Canyon National Park.

Many people who grew up in or were transplanted to Los Angeles don’t know the significance of this old Fred Harvey restaurant space—and if they know about it at all, it’s because they’ve been at a wedding or Bar Mitzvah here, as it has been rented out for events and movie locations for years awaiting its second act. But I’ve been seeing it in my head for years, as I sit in an office in Philadelphia writing the saga of Fred Harvey and his Western hospitality empire on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (aka “the Santa Fe”). The Fred Harvey system linked eighty cities and towns between the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific, but ultimately was famed for connecting Chicago and Los Angeles by rail in the decades before practical car and air travel.

Fred Harvey was a British immigrant who worked for Midwestern railroads as a freight agent and then, at forty, in the mid-1870s, had a midlife crisis that changed American dining and hospitality forever.

Trains west of Chicago did not have dining cars, and there were no “union stations”—every railroad had its own station in each town it serviced and, every hundred miles or so, the stations had “eating houses” for meal stops. These featured largely inedible food, because the local owners knew it was highly unlikely they’d be seeing most of their traveling patrons any time soon. (They also purposely served their fare minutes before the train departed, so patrons could barely eat—then they scraped the food onto new plates for the next customers. Yum.)

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El Monte Station outfitted with new art

Detail of Martin Durazo's artwork, Vamos Juntos/Juntas

Detail of Martin Durazo’s artwork, Vamos Juntos/Juntas

El Monte Station is outfitted with four new artworks that celebrate the cultural heritage of the area and examine the way we cross paths in transit.

Artists Martin Durazo, Phung Huynh, Vincent Ramos and Eloy Torrez were selected to create artworks for Metro’s El Monte Station, which opened in fall 2012. Each created four artworks that were translated into aluminum panels for display in four transit bays at the station. The colorful project brings vibrancy and an improved customer experience to the largely concrete and metal modern structure.

The four artists’ statements and project descriptions are provided below to complement your viewing pleasure of their pictured work.

The original transit center, built in the 1970s, was the busiest bus-only station west of the Mississippi. It was demolished to make way for a new two-level station, doubling passenger and bus bay capacities and adding bike storage. Additionally, the station greets passengers with an iconic sculpture by the artist Donald Lipski entitled, Time Piece.

Phung Huynh's artwork, In the Meadow, is informed by the city's rich history through the use of symbolic and metaphoric imagery.

Phung Huynh’s artwork, In the Meadow, is informed by the city’s rich history through the use of symbolic and metaphoric imagery.

In the Meadow by Phung Huynh

“I am familiar with the city of El Monte and its surrounding areas in the San Gabriel Valley. The city’s tranquil yet powerful presence in greater Los Angeles is an exciting subject to explore in public art.” – Phung Huynh

“In the Meadow” pays tribute to El Monte’s rich history through symbolic and metaphoric imagery. The stylized treatment of forms and figures are inspired by Mexican and Chinese cut paper folk art traditions and Japanese woodblock prints, which were meant to honor farm workers. Art panels reflect icons and picturesque elements of El Monte’s past. Some art panels depict picturesque glimpses into El Monte’s idyllic, agrarian past. In another art part panel, a Chinese lion reflects the historic lions in El Monte’s famous Gay’s Lion Farm of the 1920s and 1930s. The powerful image of the lion is also the El Monte High School mascot.

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Reflections on Union Station: an essay by Marisela Norte

woodenstar
On the occasion of Union Station’s 75th anniversary, Metro created a special commemorative publication, Union Station: 75 Years in the Heart of LA, featuring eight written and five photographic essays that celebrate the station by authors John C. Arroyo, William D. Estrada, Stephen Fried, Rafer Guzman, David Kipen, Marisela Norte, D. J. Waldie, and Alissa Walker. The book is on sale now at the online Metro Store. All essays will also be posted on The Source in the coming weeks. The series was edited by Linda Theung, an editor and writer based in Los Angeles.

Train of Thought
by Marisela Norte

“If you ever get lost” she told us once, “Just get yourself to Union Station and you’ll know how to get home.”

Find a calendar
put on a blindfold
and pick a year
any year
and there will
always be
a picture of me
standing alone
inside of Union Station.

speaker
In 1982
I stood
poised
and camera ready.

My picture taken
before crisscrossing
sidewalks
that led to Chinatown
Madame Wong’s
Flora’s
nightcaps at Yee Mee Loo
and always
a shortcut chaser
through Olvera Street
before making my way
back
to Union Station.

Dropping dimes
inside the
dark
wooden booths
heavy with
conversation.

If this grand station was
a sacred place
then these rows of public telephones
were the city’s confessionals.

Inside I waited for answers
a ride home
waiting.

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Reflections on Union Station: an essay by David Kipen

facade

On the occasion of Union Station’s 75th anniversary, Metro created a special commemorative publication, Union Station: 75 Years in the Heart of LA, featuring eight written and five photographic essays that celebrate the station by authors John C. Arroyo, William D. Estrada, Stephen Fried, Rafer Guzman, David Kipen, Marisela Norte, D. J. Waldie, and Alissa Walker. The book is on sale now at the online Metro Store. All essays will also be posted on The Source in the coming weeks. The series was edited by Linda Theung, an editor and writer based in Los Angeles.

A Station Made of Paper
by David Kipen

“There was nothing to it. The Super Chief was on time, as it almost always is, and the subject was as easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket. She wasn’t carrying anything but a paperback which she dumped in the first trash can she came to.”
—Raymond Chandler, Playback, 1958

Urban legend would have you believe that Union Station was literally built out of newspapers. To help kill the echo, the building’s architects mixed yesterday’s papers into the acoustic tile of the ticket hall.

Somewhere up there, mulched together, resound the brash voices of all those old 1939 tabloids and broadsheets. Not just the once-titanic Los Angeles Times, but the likes of the Los Angeles Daily News, Hollywood Citizen News, the Hearst-owned Los Angeles Examiner (so invulnerable in its Byzantine casbah at Twelfth Street and Broadway) and the Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express—herald itself of all the doomed shotgun newspaper mergers to come.

Ever since it opened, the popular press and the fate of Union Station have intertwined. The year Union Station opened is the same year that Los Angeles discovered itself in literature. There had been books from L.A. before, even good ones, but nothing that rivaled Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, John Fante’s Ask the Dust, Carey McWilliams’ Factories in the Field, or Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, all published in 1939.

Even Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, written but not set here, qualifies—if you’re willing to read the story of a wartime quadruple amputee as an allegory of the Hollywood screenwriter and his work. For its redefinition of an entire genre, though, and its inexhaustible legacy, there is nothing to compare to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and his private detective, Philip Marlowe.

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Come dance at free screening of ‘La Bamba’ at Union Station on June 13

Photo: LA Film Fest Official Facebook

Celebrate the classic hit movie La Bamba with Metro and Los Angeles Film Festival at Union Station on Friday, June 13. The free film screening takes place in Union Station’s old ticket concourse at 8:30 p.m. There will be a jitterbug dance lesson before the movie at 7:30 p.m. and a Q&A session with the cast and filmmakers at 8 p.m.

Metro customers who show their TAP cards at check-in will gain access to preferential seating; otherwise it is first come, first served. Guests may bring food to the event. Those with TAP cards can also receive 20% off at the Union Station Wetzel’s Pretzels! Offer available on June 13 only.

“Ritchie Valens was a native Angeleno, so it’s fitting that La Bamba should be shown at the iconic Los Angeles Union Station,” said Lou Diamond Phillips, who played the role of Ritchie Valens in the film. “I hope everyone will come out, dance in the beautiful ticket concourse and join us for a great time…leave your cars at home and experience this historic station as a transit rider.”

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Reflections on Union Station: an essay by William D. Estrada

CW_130715_5540-squareOn the occasion of Union Station’s 75th anniversary, Metro created a special commemorative publication, Union Station: 75 Years in the Heart of LA, featuring eight written and five photographic essays that celebrate the station by authors John C. Arroyo, William D. Estrada, Stephen Fried, Rafer Guzman, David Kipen, Marisela Norte, D. J. Waldie, and Alissa Walker. The book is on sale now at the online Metro Store. All essays will also be posted on The Source in the coming weeks. The series was edited by Linda Theung, an editor and writer based in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Union Station: A Portal Through Time
by William Estrada

The arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1876 ended Los Angeles’ long isolation from the rest of the country, if not the world. Since then, other gateways to the city, including the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Los Angeles International Airport, U.S. Routes 101 and 66, U.S. Interstates 5 and 10, and, of course, Union Station, have connected Los Angeles to the nation and defined its role in the global economic and cultural marketplace. But more than a transportation hub, the Union Station site has been witness to the unfolding chapters in the city’s history. They are stories that are worth remembering, especially as the station looks back on its own history and with an eye to the future.

The Plaza in 1862 looking east. Behind the two-story Lugo adobe are the vineyards and adobes that would become the Union Station site. Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

The Plaza in 1862 looking east. Behind the two-story Lugo adobe are the vineyards and adobes that would become the Union Station site. Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Native American Homeland
The Union Station site is located in the oldest and most historic section of the city, adjacent to the Old Plaza and the Los Angeles River. It is also within close proximity to the site of the ancient Tongva/Gabrieleño Native American village, which informed Governor Felipe de Neve’s decision to locate the pueblo in 1781. The site was traversed by the first people of Los Angeles for food gathering and access to the river. Native Americans later worked in the adobes, horse stables, orchards, and vineyards of the pueblo residents who occupied the area.(i)

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