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Renovation Stuck in Red Tape : Subway Project Stalls Plans for Mariachi Plaza, Site of Festival Today

November 20, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Colorful murals have gone up and a new sign proclaims "Mariachi Plaza," but little else has changed in the last year at a grimy, litter-strewn asphalt trangle in Boyle Heights.

With pomp and circumstance, Mayor Richard Riordan and other city officials heald a ground-breaking ceremony last November for the plaza where Mariachis in Los Angeles have plied theor talents for years.

The transformation of the doughnut shop parking lot at 1st Street, Boyle and Pleasant avenues into Mariachi Plaza was supposed to have been completed by June. But the project will be delayed two years by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plans to build a Metro Red Line substation there.

Redesign of the plaza, starting point for mariachis who comb Boyle Heights restaurants and bars to earn a living, is estimated to cost $500,000 to $1 million. Pleasant Avenue will be closed off, and fake cobblestones and a gazebo-like structure from the state of Jalisco--where the maricachi tradition began--will be installed.

The plaza, the site today of a mariachi festival, will be enlarged to make way for the subway station. The doughnut shop that is now the centerpiece of the triangle, along with some businesses on Boyle Avenue, will be displaced.

"You're talking about a much greater project which has essentially kept us from proceeding . . . but it gives us the drive to go forward," said architect Frank Villalobos, who recently traveled to Guadalajara to meet with architects designing the centerpiece that will be donated to the city for the plaza.

"Things are changing, but what will eventually be there will be one of the most positive statements for Latinos in Los Angeles," Villalobos said. "It's time to take our place."

For some of the mariachis who stood in the doughnut shop parking lot last week, the redesigned plaza seemed too far off to imagine. They were eager for the next job, perhaps a wedding in Whittier or a birthday party in City Terrace.

"Right now, we have to think about working, always working," said Jose Galindo, who lives in Boyle Heights and plays the guitar. Sometimes his brother-in-law Ramon Chavez joins him for a night of hustling $5 for a string of songs at some of the friendlier restaurants on 1st Street.

They learned their trade from fathers and uncles who would sit on back porches in their hometown of Hermosillo, Sonora, strumming guitars and drinking beer as they sang the familiar songs of love, loss and the Revolution over and over again.

"Mariachi is the most beautiful singing in the world," Galindo declared. "You can laugh and cry and feel all the emotions when you sing mariachi."

Other mariachis said the plaza will give honor to them for keeping a Mexican tradition alive with littleencouragement and even less pay.

"Mariachi will never die, but maybe this will make certain that it continues," said Miguel Reynoso, dressed in a black charro outfit and holding a trumpet at his side while he waited for work.

Villalobos estimates the plaza will be completed by July, 1996, with construction beginning in about a year.

The kiosco from Jalisco will be made of wrought iron and tile surrounding a fountain in a colonial-style setting, while the substation will be modern--a deliberate contrast in styles. The Red Line substation is one of six planned for the Eastside.

For Anita Castellanos, an attorney who owns storefront property on the plaza, the plans are an answer to her dreams of cleaning up the area and making it more family oriented. She and other merchants helped close down a bar there and asked students from the Academia de Arte Yepes, a free youth art academy in Boyle Heights, to paint the new murals on surrounding property.

"It's becoming more and more a welcoming area," said Castellanos, who headed the Mariachi Plaza

Committee of residents and business people involved in planning the project.

"We got rid of the drug dealers and the winos hanging out, and the market is now pulling the women and kids across the plaza. They never went there before."

The fruit of their labors will be on display today at the Los Angeles Mariachi Festival. The festival starts at noon, with Ballet Folklorico de Carol Armijo; Mariachi Continental de Jesus Nunez; Mariachi Juvenil Sol de Mexico; Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, the first all-female mariachi ensemble in the United States; Mariachi Tlaquepaque de Antonio Ramos, and Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez.

Art workshops for children and community information booths are also planned.

On Tuesday, the mariachis who spend their days at the plaza will stroll with community members to St. Anthony's Catholic Church, singing along the way.

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