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Gateway's Plan for Bridge Collapses : Public art: Liability concerns force winning team back to the drawing board--this time to design artwork for Union Station's East Portal.

July 01, 1993|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

Six months after the Southern California Rapid Transit District and Catellus Development Corp. announced winners of a $1 million public art competition for Union Station Gateway Center, the team that landed the biggest commission has gone back to the drawing board.

Artists May Sun and Richard Wyatt and architect Paul Diez in November won a $500,000 commission to create a pedestrian bridge as a landmark entrance to the downtown transportation hub, currently under construction just east of Union Station, but their plan has been scrapped. The artists now are designing a new artwork for an entirely different location--the interior rotunda of the transit plaza's East Portal. Retaining their $500,000 budget, they have received an additional $5,000 to revise their plan.

What happened?

Concerns about safety, liability and handicap accessibility led to the change in plans, according to Tamara Thomas, president of Fine Arts Services Inc., who administered the competition. As to why these problems didn't come to light before the winners were announced, she said: "Everyone loved the idea, but when they looked at it closer, the RTD became concerned about people crossing a bridge over a busway. There was a liability problem."

In addition, the cost of installing elevators in the bridge to make it accessible to the handicapped probably would have pushed the project well beyond its budget, she said.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 2, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 16 Column 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Photographers-- Photographers' credits were reversed on the photos of the Gateway Center bridge and of HBO's "The Broadcast Tapes of Dr. Peter" on Page 1 of Thursday's Calendar. The photographer for the Gateway Center bridge is Stuart Davis

The competition was judged by a panel of art specialists. Engineers didn't inspect the projects until after winners were announced, according to Greg Davy, a press officer for the RTD. If safety problems can be solved and additional funding becomes available, the bridge might be built in the future, he said.

The artists designed the bridge for a traffic island that belongs to Caltrans, instead of confining themselves to Gateway Center land. Going ahead with the bridge would have required a variance from Caltrans, but that wasn't the reason for dropping the plan, Thomas said. A spokeswoman for Catellus concurred.

Designed as a lookout over Hollywood Freeway, the bridge would have formed an arch over a collage-like pavement depicting faces of Los Angeles' different ethnicities. An aquarium containing fish that once thrived in the Los Angeles River was to be installed on top of the bridge.

The artists said their new design will be conceptually related to the original proposal, but the change of location--from an outdoor traffic island to an indoor floor space--will require an entirely different form.

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Sun, who leads the artist team, said she was taken aback by news that their winning proposal would not be built.

"It's hard to get excited about doing a whole new thing, but now that we're working on it I'm starting to get jazzed," she said.

Diez took the upset in stride. "I'm an architect. I'm used to having things fall apart. That's just the way the world works," he said.

But some artists whose proposals were not selected for the Gateway Center objected to the belated change. Practical issues should have been considered before winners were selected, one finalist said.

Four teams and one individual artist won commissions in the November competition. In addition to the Sun team's freeway entry, the team of Kim Yasuda, Torgen Johnson, Noel Korten and Matt Vanderborgh received a $250,000 commission for a proposed series of bus stop shelters.

The remaining $250,000 was designated for a fence and sculptural objects designed by sculptor Michael Amescua and the team of Robert Gil de Montes, Elsa Flores, Peter Shire and Donna Okeya.

Thomas downplayed the change in the Sun team's project as "a modification." A veteran in the field of public art, Thomas proclaimed herself extremely pleased that the Gateway Center project is finally under way. "This is the only thing going on in public art in downtown Los Angeles," she said. "I've had six other downtown projects, all of which have gone completely through the design stage and all of which have been dropped."

Progress on the artworks at Gateway Center has been delayed by the recent merger of the county's two transit boards, the RTD and the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, into the new Metropolitan Transit Authority. In addition, the overall budget for the transit plaza has been cut from $163 million to $149 million. The artists' commissions--which are funded by federal transportation sources and state and local matching grants--have not been reduced, but cuts in the plaza's construction budget may affect the artworks.

On the other hand, an additional $500,000 has been made available for artworks, bringing the art budget to $1.5 million, Thomas said. The money will be used to commission additional works, possibly from some of the competition finalists, she said.

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