Talking up a Wilshire subway

Times critic Christopher Hawthorne welcomes the revived interest in tunneling a subway under Wilshire Boulevard all the way to the ocean. He writes today about its possible effect on the city:

Maybe it's time to redefine exactly what cost-efficiency means in a city such as Los Angeles. If we had managed to get past hidden pockets of methane and pointed NIMBYism and extended the Red Line along Wilshire in the 1990s, after all, it would now look like the biggest bargain in Southern California transit history. Measured over time, the political expediency Los Angeles has always been known for can be awfully expensive in its own right.

And the Wilshire subway which the MTA renamed the Purple Line last month promises to do more than ease Westside gridlock and provide a framework for inevitable growth. In a way unique among transit projects being considered, it could trace a new urban blueprint here, recasting the old image of Wilshire as a linear downtown for an age of density and knitting the idea of Los Angeles the city, not the collection of retail centers and red carpets back together. It could turn a neon-bright symbol of L.A.'s love affair with the private car into the best-used transit corridor in Southern California: the strip as civic spine.

It would also connect, in the space of a single subway ride, some of the city's most important cultural institutions, quirkiest icons and most recognizable landmarks. From east to west, this appealing jumble includes Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's One Wilshire building downtown; the former Bullock's Wilshire building; the Wiltern LG theater; Langdon Wilson's Superior Court building (just off Wilshire); the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and UCLA's Hammer Museum. It ends just above the beach at the statue of Saint Monica, standing with her back to the ocean.

Even the proposed first section of the two-part extension, to the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, would bring LACMA onto the subway grid a move that could have a dramatic effect on the museum's centrality in the city's cultural and psychic landscape as architect Renzo Piano works to redesign its campus.

Holdeth not thy breath. Even Mayor Villaraigosa stresses these days that he never suggested the subway would be built during his Administration, only that he would promote the idea again. He's potentially around until 2013.

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