Taking the LA Metro Art Tour
After I put together my 2019 Must Visit List I started out with a bang visiting a good number of the spots early in the year. Then life got in the way and suddenly it was a few months since my last outing. Obviously, I needed to get cracking! So I consulted my list and headed to my next adventure – an LA Metro Art Tour.
Officially called Metro Art Moves these free tours take visitors on a journey trough the metro system to view the public art on display. There are four monthly tours available – Union Station, Downtown (one in Spanish and one in English) and Hollywood. Since I’d already visited Union Station I immediately crossed that one off the list. Then it was a toss up between Downtown and Hollywood and I ultimately chose the latter as I was less familiar with the area.
On a recent Saturday morning I found myself at the North Hollywood Station joining a group of like-minded folks ready to head underground and view some art. Now, here’s the point where I need to make a confession. This was my first time riding the LA subway. I know! It’s been around for years but it’s never been a convenient way for me to travel so I’ve largely ignored it (I did ride the regular metro once when my car got towed but that’s a whole other story).
We met our guide, Morley, a lifelong Hollywood resident and veteran docent having volunteered with Metro Art for over a decade. He handed us free tap cards and led us downstairs to view the art of the North Hollywood station.
We learned that when the stations were built a different artist was commissioned to design the artwork for each one. This meant that all the artwork for each station is the brainchild of one specific artist. In 2000 James Doolin designed the overall theme Kaleidoscope Dreams while Anne Marie Karlsen produced the actual tiles.
When the artist received the commission there were two requirements – it must have some connection to the area the station is located in and there must be some form of transportation depicted. In Doolin’s kaleidoscopes there are homages to the history of North Hollywood including two of the valley’s most famous residents, Amelia Earhart (that takes care of transportation!) and the fashion designer Nudie.
From there we continued to the Universal City Station which contains two major pieces. The first, the Tree of Califas by Margaret Garcia is immediately visible upon exiting the train.
Through tile mosaics Garcia tells stories of California history including the moment Mexico relinquished control of the state the US at Campo de Cahuenga which is adjacent to the station.
Near the ticket kiosks is the second significant art piece, Universal Delights by Stephen Johnson.
This abstract mosaic pays tribute to the film industry, particularly the station’s neighbor Universal Studios, and if you look closely you can fin hidden film reels and cameras.
From here we rode to the last stop, Hollywood & Vine. Designed in 1999 by Gilbert “Magu” Lujan this station pays tribute to, you guessed it, Hollywood.
Called Hooray for Hollywood it’s chock full of tributes to Tinseltown including 2 authentic vintage film cameras.
Throughout are palm trees, a mock film screen and various tiles depicting homages to Hollywood but my very favorite part is the ceiling.
The entire surface is covered with thousands and thousands of film reels. When Lujan designed the space the authorities at metro did not like the idea of the reels lining the ceiling as they were sure they would fall on commuters. Lujan insisted he could ensure that would not happen and 20 years later not one has moved out of place.
Here our tour ended and we could choose to head back to North Hollywood or continue exploring on our own as our tap cards were good all day. I chose the former and took my first solo ride on the LA subway.
Los Angeles is home to so many wonders that it’s no surprise that some of them are literally under our feet. At the low low price of zero dollars the Metro Art Tour is well worth taking. I guarantee you’ll see things you never knew existed and gain a whole new appreciation for this amazing city.