Bill Boyarsky
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Bergamot Station: All aboard for the future

bill-300.jpgSanta Monica’s Bergamot Station Art Center and its old industrial surroundings is a dramatic example of how rail transit lines are changing the appearance, the employment and residential style of a Southland shaped by the automobile. Good-bye dated little enclaves, known only to local residents and a few aficionados of art and food. Hello expensive boutique hotels, shops and restaurants.

Bergamot Station, at 2525 Michigan Avenue near the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and 26th Avenue, is a collection of five old industrial buildings housing 27 galleries, designer studios, other artistic facilities and a cafĂ©. It’s the best place on the Westside for artists to exhibit and sell their works. And for art lovers, it’s enlightening and much fun to visit.

Bergamot Station tells a lot about the area—past, present and future. It was built, we’re told by Wikipedia, in 1875 for the steam-powered Los Angeles and Independence Railroad. It was named for the Wild Bergamot, a flower that once flourished in the area. Later, it was a station for the Santa Monica Airline trains, part of the Pacific Electric red car system. It closed in 1953, except for occasional freight train use and sold to the city by the Southern Pacific. Eventually, galleries leased the old SP buildings, giving us the Bergamot Station we have today.

Rail is returning to the old station. The Expo line, running from downtown Los Angeles into Santa Monica, will have a station at 26th and Olympic. That has spurred a wave of development proposals that could make the dowdy intersection into a mini-Century City---hopefully one more pedestrian friendly than the chilly original. It will be called Bergamot Transit Village, with big office and residential businesses plus retail. If you think Olympic Boulevard is crowded now, wait until you drive past the transit village. Better you should take the train.

The future of Bergamot Art Center, on the edge of the proposed huge village, is at stake in all this. Much to the dismay of some of the artists and Bergamot Station veterans, the city wants to bring the center into the 21st Century while retaining the funky galleries and assuring space for the Santa Monica art museum. It wants to pull more revenue from the site with possibly a hotel, more cafes and some retail. Tuesday night, the city council voted to give the Worthe Real Estate Group the job of developing the center. But one thing is certain about Santa Monica: The opponents won’t give up. This fight will continue until building permits are awarded, some time in 2017. Expo will be completed into Santa Monica in 2016.

This is happening along every transit line. Soon people will work downtown and live on the Westside or visa versa, doing their commuting by train. Boyle Heights will be a short train ride away, as will the Crenshaw district, the growing North Hollywood art scene and the foodie-loving San Gabriel Valley. Back to the days of the Santa Monica Airline, pulling into Bergamot Station. All aboard.

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