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10.26.2011
Razing the Row
New subway line threatens LA cultural institutions.
LA's A+D Museum is among the sites in danger.
Mark Hogan / Flickr

After breaking ground on the second phase of its Expo Line in September, The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (METRO) is getting ready to rev up its latest multi-billion construction project, the “Subway to the Sea,” a westward extension of its Purple Line, much of it along Wilshire Boulevard.  A vote scheduled for the end of the year will give the final go-ahead to the $9 billion dig, which has been delayed for nearly two decades.  If LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is able to convince the Republican-controlled House to release federal subway funding on an accelerated schedule, construction will begin in Koreatown as early as next year. By 2019 the first trains would start rolling—eventually making it all the way to Santa Monica within the mayor’s ten-year timetable.

But before the cutterhead starts its grinding through the alluvial sands, clay, and methane-filled ground beneath Wilshire, the agency plans to wield an enormous above-ground wrecker’s ball, aimed at some of the city’s most vulnerable arts institutions. According to Metro’s latest environmental report, the A+D Museum, Edward Cella Art + Architecture gallery, Steve Turner Contemporary, and ACE Gallery Beverly Hills, would all be demolished. The first three spaces, which are on Wilshire between Orange Grove Avenue and Ogden Drive, directly across the street from LACMA, help anchor a stretch known as “museum row.” They would make way for a staging space to build the subway’s Wilshire and Fairfax station. ACE would give way to a station in the heart of Beverly Hills.

The Purple Line will extend west along Wilshire Boulevard.
Courtesy METRO
 

“I have great sympathy for the subway project,” said Edward Cella. “It’s a dream of all Los Angeles. But I purposely moved my gallery from Santa Barbara to be in this network of spaces next to the A+D, across the street from LACMA, down the block from the Petersen [Automotive Museum]. The context is irreplaceable. And we can’t move out for five years and then come back. Besides, the new buildings won’t be anything like what we have now. They’ll be commercial or mixed use or big hotels, nothing like the reasonable spaces and rents we have now.”

Under California law, Metro does not have to assess the impacts on cultural institutions less than 50 years old. Still, according to Metro spokesman Dave Sotero, the agency “prefers to negotiate a fair agreement with any property owner before resorting to eminent domain proceedings.” Whether there will be any buyouts for the galleries, who rent their storefronts, remains to be seen. Sotero says that until the Metro board signs off on the latest draft plan, there is still some chance the buildings—and the art spaces—might be spared. That determination, however, will require as much political clout as cultural merit.

In the meantime, the A+D released a statement: "It is heartbreaking to think that we will have to consider moving once again. However, we are confident that with Metro’s assistance, and the continued support of the A+D Community, including Councilman Tom LaBonge, we will pull through this even stronger than we are now."

Greg Goldin