Above ground, an elevator entrance resembling a movie theater facade has a marquee that reads, in part, "Gas prices too high? Travel smart ... take Metro." And surrounding the subway entrance, concrete bus shelters have been designed to recall various Hollywood cultural touchstones: a brown derby in honor of the yesteryear Tinseltown watering hole of the same name, a stretch lowrider limo and yet another Chinese pagoda -- this time in honor of the landmark Grauman's Chinese Theatre nearby on Hollywood Boulevard.
Inside the station, the pachuco-centric work of artist Gilbert "Magu" Lujan evokes a vision of the city that simultaneously celebrates immigrant culture and Hollywood glamour. Hundreds of movie projector reels cover the vaulted ceiling. And 240 hand-painted ceramic tiles line the walls leading from the street to the platform, depicting fedora-wearing Latino characters driving '40s Chevys, eating at a "Comida Chicana" restaurant and wearing sunglasses at night while contemplating the Hollywood sign. Lujan also designed five platform benches resembling lowriders. Perhaps not coincidentally, each has been heavily tagged with graffiti.
Cropping up throughout two levels of the station where the Blue and Green lines intersect, artist Joesam.'s large-scale installation piece "Hide-N-Seek" functions more like a figural game than a work of art. More than two dozen large-scale technicolor metal cutouts of African American schoolchildren crop up near the top of freeway supporting columns and on the train platform itself. Some of the figures seem to shy away from view, others bound outward in ecstatic action poses. A kind of massive community self-portrait, the piece was created over three years with the help of 1,000 youngsters from the Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club.
The station's namesake, meanwhile, is honored with an artwork titled "Pathways to Freedom" by Michael Massenburg and Robin Strayhorn that comprises five intricately decorated bus benches -- an appropriate tribute for an anti-segregation pioneer who refused to relinquish her seat.
Viewed from afar, they are just a place to sit. Up close, the point becomes clear. The benches' hand-set fragments of concrete and ceramic tile are intermingled with black and white images and headlines taken from the civil rights struggle: "Segregation Hurts Children" and "Negro Owned & Operated: We Shall Overcome" among them.
The connecting point for the Gold and Red lines is what a military strategist might call a "target rich environment." There are installations galore in addition to the terminal's textbook-worthy Art Deco architecture.
"Atrain" by Bill Bell provides a sensory assault for Metro Rail passengers taking the down escalator. A conceptual piece featuring 12 vertical light-sticks capable of producing an array of colors and patterns, escalator riders are inevitably taken aback by the piece's sound component: a blast of locomotive engine noise.
Nearby is "City of Dreams / River of History," by May Sun, Richard Wyatt and Paul Diez, a bench and fountain fashioned out of bottles, rocks and other detritus excavated during the station's construction.
And in the airy, blond stone lobby, beneath the East Portal's semicircular glass atrium, hangs Richard Wyatt's "Los Angeles City of Dreams" -- a humongous mural that comprises portraits of a multi-generational, multicultural cross-section of proud Angelenos.
In a larger sense, the painting is emblematic of the MTA's thinking on its public art offerings. "The artwork can take on different layers," said Jorge Pardo, art and design manager for Metro Creative Services. "We don't just place a painting here and a mural there. It's about having the wherewithal to have a metaphor. We see it as a level of care for our customer. It's about identity."
Art tours by rail
The Metropolitan Transit Authority offers docent-led art tours on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month, hitting five or six showcase stations inside two hours. This weekend, tours depart from the Hollywood / Highland station at 10 a.m.
Private tours for groups of 15 and more can be arranged by contacting Jeffrey Mohr at (213) 922-2738; or by e-mail, MOHRJ@metro.net.