Last week I found myself, rather against my better judgement, in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. With just a few hours in the city between arrival on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, and departure that afternoon from LAX, my travelling companion wanted to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Hollywood sign. I, on the other hand, had planned to see the space shuttle orbiter Endeavour, at the California Science Center.
As it turned out, the Walk of Fame was unexpectedly appealing, while the Hollywood sign was just as I remembered it from last time: smaller than one expects, and difficult to get a good view of between trees, buildings and overhead wires. But the trip turned out to be much more rewarding than I had expected, largely because I hadn’t done much research on Los Angeles’ transport in advance. I was therefore surprised, and quite entranced, by Hollywood/Vine station on the Los Angeles Metro red line, the entrance for which can be found at the heart of Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame.
Just like Hollywood itself, the station is a flamboyant kitsch confection; an assault on refined tastes but gloriously enjoyable provided you’re prepared to enter into the spirit of the thing.
Opened in 1999 (or 1998, depending which source you read), and reflecting the local film-making industry, the station is decorated as a celebration of the movies. The design is the work of American artist Gilbert “Magu” Luján (1940-2011) with architecture practice Miralles Associates. In the splendidly-vaulted ticket hall, a yellow brick road is tiled into the floor. On the other side of the ticket gates, a movie projector can be seen in the area at the top of the stairs/escalators which descend to platform level.
Beyond the ticket gates, it turns out that not one, but two old movie projectors stand guard. The ceiling is decorated with hundreds of film reels, painted dark blue. Fluted pillars are topped with palm fronds, evoking the Art Deco stylings of local picture houses from Hollywood’s golden age, which picked up on Egyptian motifs like palm trees.
The projectors point towards cinema “screens” above the staircases down to the platforms. The polished stainless steel railings around the edge of the mezzanine are designed as a musical stave, the notation giving the refrain from the song “Hooray for Hollywood”.
Doors are framed with tiling designed to resemble film strips. If that last one sounds a little familiar, it’s because Leicester Square in London also has film strip-effect tiling. Hollywood/Vine however, goes for the film-making references big time, as only a town as self-confident as Los Angeles would dare, thoroughly overshadowing its English counterpart.
Although modern, this is a proper Art Deco station. Although many transport buildings are described as Art Deco, including the famous London Underground stations of the 1930s and 40s, they are often actually Modernist or Streamline Moderne buildings. The confusion is maintained by the regularity with which official organisations describe their buildings as Art Deco, when they are actually Streamline Moderne, or Modernist. For instance, Transport for London describes Loughton station as Art Deco (here) and as a result, so does this blog, because it’s readily understood as a catch-all term for particular types of stylish interwar (usually) buildings. But really, Loughton’s ticket office is best described as Modernist, while the platforms have Streamline Moderne canopies.
This confusion of terminology greatly winds up some proper architects and architectural critics (as here, although Glancey classifies Streamline Moderne buildings as Art Deco, which yet others would disagree with). For a rather more level-headed explanation of the differences between Art Deco, Streamline Moderne and Modernism (also known as International Style), I heartily recommend the Modernist Britain website, here.
Proper Art Deco buildings first appeared in the 1920s and feature extravagant decoration; that’s where the name comes from after all (via an international exhibition). Mirrors, shiny bits, inlays of coloured stone, paint patterns, geometric tiling, and Egyptian motifs are all common on Art Deco buildings (the latter thanks to a heightened interest in all things ancient Egyptian after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922). This is the colourful and outré Art Deco of the Chrysler Building in New York (USA) or the Hoover Factory and Daily Express Building, both in London (UK). It has little to do with the unadorned white planes and rectangular windows of Modernist buildings, which were a reaction against all the ‘dishonest’ and vulgar decoration that true Art Deco, and the earlier Art Nouveau, represented.
Like its illustrious Art Deco predecessors from the early twentieth century, Hollywood/Vine is a glamorous station, in the early sense of the word. It weaves a colourful spell, disguising its appearance in the eyes of observers, transforming its underlying unremarkable structure into something magical and pleasing. It achieves the designers’ aims of producing a station which celebrates, “light and power, fantasy and enchantment, glitz and glitter.”
The really good news is that after my visit to Hollywood, I still had time to go see the space shuttle before I flew out of Los Angeles. It was absolutely awesome.
how to find Hollywood/Vine station
bibliography and further reading
Los Angeles Metro’s official project page for the station, here.