August 25, 2015

Photo Essay: Subway Terminal Building, Above Ground

At a get-to-know-you lunch today, a new acquaintance asked me, "So what are the places you haven't been able to get into yet?"

I immediately answered him with, "The tunnels below the Subway Terminal Building."

But in all honesty, I hadn't really tried. I missed a tour of them a couple of years ago when I was out of town, and they since have been condemned. It kind of seemed like a lost cause.

But I hadn't even been inside the 1925 Beaux Arts-style building in Downtown LA that was once the Downtown terminus of the Pacific Electric's "Hollywood Subway" line... I decided to swing by during a photography show opening in their lobby gallery.

Although you can still see the signs of a subway, even above ground, these days most people don't know about the underground trains that carried passengers from here to the Belmont Tunnel (across the street from Bob Baker Marionette Theatre) from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Then again, a lot of people don't know that LA yet again has an operating underground, and that there's an open Red Line station just a few blocks away at Pershing Square. Then again, there are a lot of tunnels here that people don't know about and have never been into.

The Subway Terminal Building, once Downtown LA's largest office building when it opened, is now known as Metro 417, a fancy residential high-rise with units available to rent since 2005.

Even just the lobby is worth a visit...

...with its restored coffered ceilings...

...mosaic tile...

...and Italian Renaissance ornamentation...

...and other restored elements of the original Schultze and Weaver design (the team also responsible for the Millenium Biltmore Hotel in LA and the Waldorf Astoria in NYC).

To be honest, I kept looking for a way into the basement. But the elevators only go up, and require the swipe of a resident's keycard.

In the rear of the lobby, through a doorway, there's a display of historic photographs...

...acknowledging the history of the building...

...and the transit that used to bring visitors into and out of Downtown Los Angeles, when it wasn't very easy to get around.

I should have known that I wouldn't get anywhere from the former office lobby, since there was actually a separate entrance to the passenger concourse to get to the trains, which reportedly was altered significantly in the 1950s. But I got up the course to ask the security guy anyway.

"Is there anyone who can take me downstairs?" I asked.

A look of dread came over his face. "No, not at this time of night."

"No superintendent or building manager or anything? Are they only here during the day?"

"Yeah, and we don't ever really go down there," he said, with more than a fair measure of hesitation.

"Do people ask you that all the time?" I leaned in, hoping to establish a common enemy to get in his good graces.

"No, not really..."

"Have you ever been down there?"


"Don't you want to? Aren't you curious?"

"No, not really..."

This guy really wanted to get rid of me, so I took the hint, thanked him, and left.

As I walked away with my tail between my legs, stopping to snap some more photos of what I could see, I was glad I finally tried. And I'm not giving up yet.

Related Posts:
Underneath the City (Hall)
Underground History
Photo Essay: Union Station, Open to the Public
Photo Essay: Into the Abyss of Downtown LA's Underground Tunnels

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