Mike Woo, the dean of Cal Poly Pomona's College of Environmental Design, was playing tour guide for 50 students on a Thursday night, dark-to-dawn tour of nighttime LA. As Woo explained over the tour bus microphone, he went on a similar tour organized through a summer class he took in urban studies at USC in 1972. While he can't recall exactly where he went, the idea of a 24-hour city has stuck with him all these years, and he thought it was worth a reprise. Last week he had his chance. "Noir LA," the tour he organized for Cal Poly environmental design students, hit the streets, adding LA's dark side to the Los Angeles most people know, a city whose name more often evokes sunshine and bright blue skies.
Starting in the Downtown Arts District, the students visited the Diego Cardoso Gallery, then got a tour of the County-USC Medical Center emergency room. Woo, the former LA City Council member and candidate for mayor, wanted students to look at each place they visited in terms of its design and functionality, as well as how the public might experience it. During the hospital tour, they were very engaged, asking many questions of the nurses and doctors who guided them through the corridors and onto the helipad, eerily quiet with anticipation of the next emergency. The tour was a combination of history (which for County-USC goes back to the 1930's), policy and technology. One of the students, studying here from China, was surprised to find out that no one can be turned away for treatment, even if they are unable to pay. She said it's not like that at the state-owned Chinese hospitals.
Next they headed to Little Tokyo for a Power Point presentation (which at 3:30 a.m. also provided an opportunity for some catnaps), then a brisk walk in hard hats behind the construction barrier at Alameda and 1st Street to peer down into the cavernous innards of the downtown Regional Connector project. Mat Antonelli, director of construction management on the billion-dollar project, said that most of the LA drivers and pedestrians streaming across that intersection every day are totally unaware of the activity going on 35 feet below them. The connector, due to be finished in 2021, will link three Metro subway lines to make travel easier for LA commuters.
Next stop was an LAPD police station in the heart of Skid Row, on 6th Street near Wall Street. Central Division is the busiest division in the city. In that neighborhood, they were told, "there is nothing pretty that happens after 10....But I can't imagine a better place to work than where people really need you," said Sgt. Robert Grant.
The last stop, around 3:30 a.m., was a tour of the refrigerated warehouse at Times Produce, a family-owned produce wholesaler located under the First Street bridge and in business since the 50's. If anyone was sleepy, the refrigerated warehouse and warnings to step briskly to avoid being run over by the electric carts carrying stacks of produce boxes through the wide aisles were effective wake-up calls. "Let them run," owner David Sonoda said of the dolly drivers, as time is money and trucks were waiting to receive their produce for delivery. As the students piled back onto the bus for the ride back to Pomona, they seemed to appreciate their custom-curated peek behind the nighttime curtain in Los Angeles. It gave them a unique perspective on how our city is still at work while most are sleeping. As soon as they settled back into their seats, sleep was next on the agenda.