Riding the Gold Line offers an intimacy with the landscape not possible in a car. It’s a journey through wooded chaparral, craftsman architecture and multicultural Los Angeles. A view so close, you can see in people’s backyards. This trip starts in the shadows of the Downtown skyscrapers at Union Station. At 6:30 P.M. the train is full with tired workers reading, sightseers, young lovers and every breed of Angeleno. First up is Chinatown.
The original Chinatown was the city’s vice district, known for having underground tunnels housing opium dens, gambling and prostitution. It was located on the present site of Union Station before being relocated a half-mile northwest in the 1930s.
Chinatown now has art galleries on Chung King Way and funky night life @ “Hop Louie” and “Firecracker.” Directly east are factories with Chinese characters, yards of school buses, County U.S.C. Hospital, freeway bridges, graffiti and the concrete channel called the L.A. River.
Next is Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park. Passengers talk excitedly about their work day.
An anti-graffiti poster in the train reads, “Limpia Los Angeles.” The train is spotless.
Passing Pentecostal churches, the train enters the Arroyo Seco, which means “dry creek.” This is a lush region of oaks, sycamores, eucalyptus and rustic houses along the small waterway running from Pasadena to Elysian Park.
The Gold Line and 110 zigzag one another through hillside communities like Montecito Heights, Mt. Washington, Highland Park, Garvanza and South Pasadena. These communities are charming and underappreciated. Heritage Square has several exquisite 19th Century Victorian houses relocated from Bunker Hill, artifacts dating back to before the skyscrapers were built.
The Southwest Museum, founded by Charles Fletcher Lummis was the first museum ever built in Los Angeles. It celebrates the indigenous residents of the Arroyo Seco.
During the 1890’s the Arroyo Seco was a bastion for the Arts and Crafts Movement inhabited by architects, poets, painters and musicians. Lummis was the patriarch of L.A.’s first art movement. He walked to L.A. from Ohio in the 1880’s and served as the L.A. Times first City Editor.
It’s by no coincidence Mt. Washington and Highland Park are flourishing art communities today because this dates back to the arts and crafts legacy of Lummis.
The train slows down in Highland Park. Children play dodge ball in their yards. At the Mission Station signs read, “No Horn Bells!” In South Pasadena the houses are impressive and the foliage gets denser. White-collar riders exit. Iron work sculpture on the gates of the Del Mar station intrigues young art students. This stop is for shoppers and bar hoppers. Old Town Pasadena!
The Gold Line ends in Sierra Madre as the train emerges in the center of the 210 freeway.
Cars speed by on both sides and a purple glow in the sky makes for another nuclear sunset.
Zooming just below the base of Mount Wilson and the San Gabriel Mountains,
the lights of the San Gabriel Valley lie below
the Gold Line races on.
Originally published in LA Alternative Press in November, 2003.