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Valley Perspective

Tokens of Past Part of Subway's Toll

November 17, 1996

Rarely does the future come cheaply. Consider the freeway that slices through a neighborhood or the mega-mall that drives small shops out of business. Weigh the big conveniences of modern life against the tiny, uncountable bits of the past that are lost to make room.

Last week, another slice of Los Angeles succumbed to the name of progress. Phil's Diner, a North Hollywood greasy spoon that had survived the Great Depression, closed its doors after more than 70 years--forced out of business by the mess and noise and hassle of nearby Metro Rail construction. The food at Phil's was hardly good for the heart, but it was served with plenty.

With any great public works project, casualties are a given. Many businesses will be unable to cope with the slowdown in customer traffic that accompanies torn-up streets, blowing dust and blocked parking lots. Those failures are factored in to the construction budget, which includes money to compensate owners for lost business. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the long-term benefits of the subway will far outweigh the losses suffered by businesses forced under by construction.

Transportation planners predict a time when it will be easier to move across the city, when subway stations like the ones being built in Universal City and North Hollywood will be the focus of civic life--bustling with shops and eateries. The future, they promise, will be better.

Maybe so. Maybe in 10 years--or even five--no one will remember what was there before. Maybe no one will remember Phil's or the other mom-and-pop operations that could not survive the painful jump into the future. The past is traded for the future. That's the price of the subway, of progress.

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