Downtown: The Toluca Subway Yard

Wednesday, September 15, 2004, at 08:08AM

By Eric Richardson

It seems today the LA Times caught up with the ongoing back and forth over the Toluca Yard subway portal. I thought I had talked about this last month when Preserve LA did their call to action, but I can't seem to find anything in the archives. I guess I sort of half-responded in my head and the words never made their way here.

Anyway, the Times story -- "Old Tunnel May Be Tagged as Landmark" -- focuses on the idea of the site as an "art park" for graffiti.

The land has sat for decades as a sort of no-man's land — a place for homeless people to sleep, taggers to use as a canvas and drug addicts to shoot up. Then, earlier this year, the new property owner proposed tearing down the tunnel and replacing it with a 276-unit apartment complex.

The plan has sparked a growing movement to preserve the tunnel, not as a relic of the past, but as a monument to Los Angeles' underground graffiti culture. Today the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to grant cultural landmark status to the tunnel — a key step in efforts to save it.

Now, here's my first question: How do you "tear down" a tunnel? You can fill in a tunnel, or dig up a tunnel, but tear it down? That's some poor word choice there, especially since I seem to recall that the developers intend to do no such thing, even leaving the tunnel portal intact as a feature of the site. I can't seem to find the details I remember reading previously, though, so take my memories with a grain of salt.

The article gives mention to the history of the site. Originally running from downtown's Subway Terminal Building to the Toluca Yard, service stopped in 1955 and in 1967 the tunnel was interupted by the construction of the Bonventure Hotel. Since then it's just sort of been sitting there, for the most part unsecured.

Sort of as an aside, the Belmont Art Park website is really good looking. Definitely a site you should check out, if just for their very comprehensive set of links to tunnel related sites.

People have mentioned several different uses for the site, including the aforementioned art park and putting the tunnel back to use for a new light rail line. Of course the reality of the situation is that the developer owns the site and the area needs housing.

As much as I think the reuse of the tunnel for transit would be a great thing, I don't think I've ever seen any hard information on exactly how thoroughly the Bonaventure cut off the tunnel. Knowing that would be pretty important to knowing if what you've got is a dead-end hole or something that could be worked back into a tunnel with two ends.

With the site being discussed at meetings both yesterday and today, you'd like to think that we'll get a slightly clearer picture of what's up in the next little while.