Each of the two underground stations, meanwhile -- the cerulean-blue Soto Station by architect Aziz Kohan and artist Nobuho Nagasawa, and Mariachi Plaza Station by architect William Villalobos and artist Alejandro de la Loza -- is a tri-level design that adds a sizable new public plaza at street level. The visible coordination between art, architecture and signage at the stations -- and even the perforated-metal bicycle lockers built at or near a number of the them -- is a direct result of Metro's decision several years ago to create its own design studio, which now has a staff of more than 20.
The Gold Line extension has also produced a number of important urban ripple effects. Several transit-oriented commercial and residential developments, including some planned for land owned by Metro immediately adjacent to the new stations, remain stalled by the poor economy; but other important changes to the route served by the train have already been completed or are underway, including the repaving of 3rd Street, the widening of the First Street Bridge and the construction of a pair of public high schools.
The extension has also managed to reawaken the potential of the Museum of Contemporary Art's Geffen Contemporary building. Still among the most underrated art-world designs of Frank Gehry's career, the warehouse building has been closed for 10 months as the museum struggled with financial woes.
But now, as the Geffen reopens in time to hold one segment of a major new exhibition of MoCA's permanent collection, it does so with a new Metro stop directly across Alameda Street -- and to find itself as central, if not more so, to the cultural and geographical makeup of Los Angeles than the main MoCA building on Grand Avenue.
In the broadest sense, particularly because most of the new route is above ground, the Gold Line extension provides a number of ways to consider anew the city's architecture.
Along with the Geffen and City Hall, the buildings visible from the train include Rafael Moneo's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels; Coop Himmelblau's Central High School No. 9; Gilbert Stanley Underwood's twin-domed Terminal Annex Post Office; Dodger Stadium; Thom Mayne and Morphosis' Caltrans District 7 Headquarters; and along First and Third streets a horizontal panorama of vernacular architecture including pink-stucco bungalows, car-detailing shops, taco stands and signs for Jewish, Serbian, Catholic and Chinese cemeteries.
Perhaps the most dramatic architectural views are the changing vistas of the downtown skyline that come into view as you move west on the new route from Boyle Heights and across the river and then as the train navigates a tight S-curve over the Hollywood Freeway and its dense field of red brake lights.
Many of those same views have long been available by car or bus or on foot, of course. But there is something more memorable -- more liberating, even -- about seeing them from a train running along dedicated tracks, floating free of capricious traffic.