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End of The Line?

The Unresolved Dilemma of The East L.A. Train Station

October 22, 2000|ED LEIBOWITZ

When Gary Cypres purchased Union Pacific's three-story 1960 office building for the Banner Central Electric appliance and furniture store, he got an uncommon bonus. Plopped on the edge of his auxiliary parking lot was architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood's Union Pacific East L.A. train station.

Abutting the tracks that cut through the City of Commerce, surrounded by mills and factories and warehouses, the East L.A. station is less spectacularly situated than Underwood's North Rim Lodge at the Grand Canyon, his Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite or even the federal courthouse downtown. Certainly the 1924 structure is not what it was before Union Pacific decommissioned it in 1971. An earthquake fissure runs down its front wall, and its windows have been shut with plywood. Still, there is a residual splendor to this Spanish Revival relic. A roof of peaked timber and sculpted iron rods shelters an outdoor patio. Travelers were swept inside beneath a flurry of sandstone undulations that recall the clouds and the sea. On either side of the front door, Underwood placed the station's most haunting design flourish: twin hoary heads that surely stared down at John Garfield and Lana Turner when the depot was featured in "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

According to Cypres, president and majority owner of Banner Central Electric, "customers come in and park, and they don't even look at it." Still, he doesn't want to tear it down. "The real question is what is the cost of getting it to modern standards," he says. And then there's the larger quandary of what to do with the restored building. "If you put money in there and sell the building, then you've got to get your money out," Cypres says. "This is not like your home."

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