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Going for the Gold: California Stories on the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: Communities, Public Art, and Placemaking.: 11. Michael Amescua, Rider's Dream, Allen Station

The project was funded in 2008-2009 by the California Council for the Humanities through its California Stories: California Story Fund



Rider’s Dream, 2003

Michael Amescua

Rider’s Dream consists of two distinctly different elements that combine a rich variety of cultural and physical references, yet are united by a similar design style.  A circular horizontal “Time Marker” with a cut-out Chumash styled pattern and arrows pointing to the cardinal points hovers above the station platform at the top of a 15’ stainless steel pole.  Stencils created by the cutouts cast a shadow on a 10’ x 10’ screen of gold tiled pavers embedded in the platform floor below the Time Marker.[1]  The second component of Amescua’s installation decorates the station’s entrance on Allen Avenue and the stairway that leads up to the platform.  A stainless steel trellis surrounds the station’s entrance with a bucolic scene of a richly decorated sky above a family walking through a lush landscape linked by a river to distant snow covered mountains.  Accented by a golden tiled background which extends outward on adjacent walls, these images are painted Kelly green except for the unpainted polished mountains, river, and part of the sun and moon.[2]  Decorating the stairway to the station’s platform with cutouts of stylized flowers in steel panels painted Kelly green is a free standing corner piece and two sets of two 4’ x 4’ pieces on opposite corner walls.  The trellis, the stairway panels, and the Time Marker, are all designed in the papel picado (Spanish for perforated or punched paper) style.  Tracing its Mexican roots to the pre-Columbian Aztec empire, this folk art style exist with variations throughout the world.

Amescua conceived Rider’s Dream as welcoming to transit riders.[3]  The walls extending outward from the street level entrance embrace the commuter while their warm gold color tile softens the dark, cold and noisy environment of the underpass.  Images in the trellis link the station to the surrounding physical and natural environment by referencing the San Gabriel Mountains as well as the palms, pines and other flora growing nearby. The Time Marker acknowledges the universal need to record the passage of time while its particular design honors the indigenous people and connects their technology to the technological advances occurring at nearby California Institute of Technology and JPL.[4] 

The dedication of Rider’s Dream at the Allen Avenue station in 2003 marked the end of a ten year process that began when the staffs of Metro Art and the Public Affairs Office of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) jointly held a series of community meetings in the neighborhoods surrounding each of the six stations planned for the City of Pasadena.[5]  At those meetings, the communities around the stations were informed about the light rail line and were invited to participate in the art creation process by joining the Community Advisory Committees (CAC) that were being established.[6]  In July 1993, the Community Advisory Committee responsible for the Lake Street, Allen Avenue, and Sierra Madre Villa stations began meeting.[7]  After completing the Community Profile for the areas surrounding the three stations in September, the CAC elected two members to serve on the five member artist selection panel.  The panel first met on October 5, 1993[8] and reviewed the slides of over 600 artists.[9]  Though most artists in the registry had applied to be in it, Michael Amescua believes he was put in it by someone who knew that he had executed a public monument in 1988-89 dedicated to the California Highway Patrol personnel who died in the line of duty.[10]  After the initial review of the artists, the panel created a list of 57 semi-finalists who were looked at more intensely at the panel’s second meeting.[11]  The panel selected seven finalists at that meeting[12] who were then interviewed at the panel’s third meeting on November 2.[13]  During the interview, Amescua expressed a preference for the Allen Avenue station because it was the closest station to Pasadena City College, which he attended as a student.[14]  The same day he was interviewed, the panel selected him for the station.[15] 

Amescua initially proposed covering the wall surrounding the station’s entrance on Allen Avenue with a 20’ high metal work and sun colored tiles.  He also wanted to install two circular sun motifs on the walls of the stairway connecting the entrance with the station platform, three panels relating to sun cycles in the ceiling of the stairway landing, and designs similar to the sun cycles in the floor of the landing.[16]  In order to humanize the noisy station platform, which is located between the opposite lanes of the 210 Freeway, he proposed a shelter that would be open on the sides and have a laminated glass ceiling.  In addition, he wanted to incorporate into the ceiling a sun dial based on hand held leather Chumash sun dials[17] that would cast a shadow on a fixed marker at the Summer Solstice.[18]  One of the inspirations for the Time Marker was Vera Rocha, the late Chieftess of the Gabrielino/Shoshone Nation, who told the Gold Line artists at a meeting at the Southwest Museum in 1994 that she hoped the Gabrielino would be remembered in their work.[19] 

By the time construction of the light rail stopped in 1995 because of cost overruns, Amescua had revised his initial design.  The new design had a trellis similar to what was ultimately installed around the entrance, and the sun colored wall tiles were replaced by a tile mural with a flame motif.  Embedded in the trellis above the entrance, Amescua put a clock within a circular metal frame with stylized flames that made it look like the sun.  He deleted the decoration from the stairway and moved the time marker from the laminated glass ceiling to a platform light pole.[20] 

In 2001, after construction of the light rail resumed, Amescua received a $10,000 contract to finalize his design.[21]  He removed the Time Marker from the light pole and put it on top of its own pole.  In addition, he considered installing patterned pavers under the Time Marker but because of cost, adopted instead a solid 10’ x 10’ square of yellow tile.[22]  He added the floral wall panels in the corner walls and a free standing corner piece in the stairwell landing but removed the clock above the street level entrance for budgetary and maintenance reasons.[23]  As a substitute for the clock, he incorporated a half sun with painted red flames to the trellis.  Amescua also removed the flame motif mural and proposed that the walls behind and adjacent to the trellis be painted a “light color to brighten [the] area and help [the] trellis stand out in [the] space.”[24]  But after reviewing the design on September 20, 2001, the City of Pasadena Light Rail Station Design Review Committee recommended that the walls be covered by gold colored tiles rather than be painted.[25]  This change was made and it was funded by the City of Pasadena as a “betterment”.[26]

Before fabricating the trellis, Amescua, “field verified” the size of the space where it was to be hung by making detailed measurements of the actual wall that framed the entrance.  Finding that the section of the wall on the viewer’s right was much larger than the one on the left, Amescua had to modify his design because he had originally prepared a composition based on drawings that showed the walls were of equal size.[27] 

Following the installation, a safety issue arose.  An inspector from the MTA was concerned that a person could cut their fingers on the edges of the images in the trellis.  He recommended that as a safety measure, a plexiglass panel be installed over the work.[28]  Lesley Elwood, the art consultant for the Authority, and the staff from Metro Art resisted the suggestion.  In the end the plexiglas was not installed, in part because Amescua had rounded off the edges and juncture points as he normally does so people would not get their fingers cut or stuck.  But a grated metal plate was put in the cement in front of the trellis to act as a psychological barrier.[29]

Michael Amescua (1942 - ) was born and raised in Southwestern Arizona by Mexican Indian parents.  He learned how to fabricate metal in welding classes at Pasadena City College before transferring to Occidental College, where he graduated in 1975 with a B.A. degree in Anthropology.  His art education consisted of being an apprentice at Occidental’s art shop.  In addition to his installation at Allen Avenue, Amescua executed a large work for the MTA headquarters at the Gateway Center and the adjacent Patsouras Transit Plaza.  This installation consists of fences, 39 architectural grills, two guardrails, and an overlook barrier.  Amescua has also completed public art installations for the City of Gardena, the Chatsworth Courthouse, Santa Fe Springs, the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Los Angeles International Airport, Paseo Colorado in Pasadena, and the Montebello Transit Center.  His smaller pieces are in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the UCLA Museum of Cultural History, and the Brandiwine in Pennsylvania. 

[1] Consultation Report from Sculpture Conservation Studio for Allen Street Station, re: Review of proposed fabrication methods and materials, September 18, 2001.

[2] Staff Report from Richard Bruckner to Arts Commission, re: MTA Gold Line Final Art Plans: Allen Avenue Station, July 10, 2002.

[3] Summary of design, undated.

[4] Michael Amescua, interviewed by Michael Several, November 8, 2008.

[5] Notice of Public Meeting Pasadena Light Rail Transit Project, no date.

[6] Alan Nakagawa, interview by Michael Several, May 21, 2008.

[7] Letter from Alan Nakagawa to Marcel Machler, June 8, 1993; letter from Alan Nakagawa to Dear Committee Member, July 8, 1993.

[8] Letters from Alan Nakagawa to panelists, September 29, 1993.

[9] Letter from Alan Nakagawa to John Outterbridge, October 6, 1993.

[10] Amescua interview, Op. Cit.

[11] Lake/Allen/Sierra Madre Villa, A-R-T Program Short List, no date.

[12] Lake Allen Sierra Madre Villa Stations Finalists, no date.

[13] Letters from Alan Nakagawa to panelists, October 19, 1993; Pasadena Light Rail Transit Lake/Allen/Sierra Madre Villa Artist Selection Interviews, November 2, 1993.

[14] Amescua interview, Op. Cit.; Artist Selection Interviews, November 2, 1993, Op. Cit.

[15] Letter from Alan Nakagawa to Michael Amescua, November 2, 1993.

[16] Approximate Art Cost for Allen Street Blue Line Station, Michael M. Amescua, March 22, 1994.

[17] Amescua interview, Op. Cit.

[18] Description of concept by Michael Amescua, untitled, Allen Avenue, Pasadena Blue Line, no date.

[19] Amescua interview, Op. Cit.

[20] Los Angeles – Pasadena Metro Blue Line Construction Authority Status of Artwork Design, February 5, 2001.

[21] Letter from Lesley A. Elwood to Rochelle Branch with attached information on route, status of station and artist list, public art budget, station renderings, February 6, 2001.

[22] Memo from Lesley Elwood to Jim Holmes, re: Meeting Notes January 17, 2002, Allen Avenue Station, January 23, 2002.

[23] Amescua interview, Op. Cit.

[24] Art Concept 35% Submission, Michael Amescua, April 27, 2001.

[25] Draft Minutes, City of Pasadena Light Rail Station Design Review Committee, September 20, 2001.

[26] Letter from James Ball, Engineering Manager, Los Angeles to Pasadena Metro Blue Line Construction Authority, to John Jontig, City of Pasadena re: Potential Betterments for Stations, October 26, 2001.

[27] Amescua interview, Op. Cit.

[28] Email from Chipper Hazen to Richard Morallo, re: Gold Line Opening, May 16, 2003.

[29] Lesley Elwood, interviewed by Michael Several, August 28, 2008.