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Going for the Gold: California Stories on the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: Communities, Public Art, and Placemaking.: 04 Teddy Sandoval, Highland Park Gateway

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


Highland Park Gateway

Teddy Sandoval with Paul Polubinskas

This multi-component installation has an architectural presence in Highland Park that gives meaning to the classification by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) that this place is a “Landmark Station.”  Teddy Sandoval did this by blending his own iconic symbolic images with references to the area’s history, cultural diversity, architecture, and natural environment to create a powerful visual expression of the eclectic and special character of the surrounding community. 

The approaches to the station are dominated by three 13’ high white fluted columns with ionic capitals.  While the columns signify the location of the station, they also represent European culture and are an architectural reference to the Victorian era residences in Highland Park.[1]  Atop each column is a mosaic clad figure with 8’ wings of rolled and carved aluminum.  Though they are often described as angels, Sandoval considered the figures “Guardians”, who were protecting the community and transit riders.[2]  Each guardian is pointing to a specific destination.  Two are pointing to the end points of the Gold Line: the northern one to Pasadena and the southern one to downtown Los Angeles.  The lower one is pointing up to the nearby Southwest Museum.  These distinctive whimsical figures are an enlargement of ceramic artworks that Sandoval created prior to his involvement with the Southwest Museum station.[3] 

The pedestals for each column are different.  One consists of two stacked dice, set off on an angle from each other.  Dice as an image, object, and symbol are used throughout the Southwest Museum station.  Not only are they fashioned into a pedestal for one of the columns, they also appear in the ceramic tile images in the other two pedestals, and as one of the unique types of platform seating.  Sandoval uses dice as symbolic of the chances one takes in life].[4]  Neither the placement of the dots on the pedestal nor their size exactly replicates real dice.  Rather their numerology is of personal significance to  Sandoval and his life.  For example, when facing the side with two dots on the top die, one can see the sides with three and five dots on the bottom die.  All together, one can see 10 dots, which was Sandoval’s lucky number.[5]

The southernmost column has a four-sided pedestal, with a ceramic tile panel in a recess on each side.  One panel shows the Los Angeles Police Historical Museum.  This building was previously the headquarters for the Northeast Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.  Sandoval wanted to include a depiction of the building because he admired the architecture and was a strong supporter of the police in the community.[6]  Moving clockwise around the pedestal, the next panel has several images: a replica of a woodcut by Sandoval of Italian cypress trees, common in Highland Park; a half submerged head of a Mesoamerican pre-Columbian Indian representing Sandoval’s Hispanic culture and his coming to terms with his own mortality; and dice in water underneath an anthropomorphized crescent moon.  The next panel contains a drawing of a Gabrielino village that Paul Polubinskas (who was responsible for carrying to completion the fabrication and installation of the art works after Sandoval died in 1995) created from a picture he found while doing research at the Southwest Museum.  The fourth panel is a rendition of a 1994 pastel by Sandoval of water, Italian cypress trees, the sun and moon as one, and stars.

A triangular base supports the lower column.  One side depicts the Lummis House, which is a local architectural and historic landmark.  Moving clockwise, the next panel replicates a drawing Polubinskas prepared from a photograph he found in a book at the Southwest Museum that depicts Gabrielino Indians paddling in a boat.  The third panel is a replica of a 1994 pastel by Sandoval called “Swimming in the Balance” that combines dice and a flaming heart, which is a religious icon symbolizing Sandoval’s Mexican and Catholic heritage, both floating in water with the sun and moon merged into one in the background.[7] 

The translucent canopy at the Southwest Museum Station, which is the only one of this type on the Metro Line, was proposed by Sandoval to create an open air feeling on the platform while providing protection from the sun during the day.  At night, the canopy has a soft ambient glow from the lighting in the station.  Victorian styled ironwork decorates the ridge line of the canopy.  Like the three columns, this embellishment is an architectural reference to the Victorian era homes in the area.  A line of light posts, extending down the southern end of the station from the canopy, provide shade with metal green mesh roughly shaped like palm fronds.  Sandoval wanted shade on this part of the platform made with an artistic interpretation of palm fronds, however the actual shape of the fronds was done by Polubinskas.[8]   

Sandoval proposed a wave pattern for all the station’s railing as a reference to the Arroyo and as a way of honoring the people in the area who currently have wrought iron studios.[9]  However, because of budget constraints, the wave pattern was installed only along the two entrances to the platform.[10]  Sandoval also wanted the Arroyo referenced by embedding white, blue, and aqua colored glass into the platform in a way that gives the impression of water running the entire length of the platform and churning around the seating elements. 

While waiting for trains, patrons can either rest on capitals of columns, Victorian era fern chairs, dice, or granite rocks.  Sandoval felt the seating was a “crucial artistic segment” of his design.[11]  He wanted unique seating elements rather than typical concrete or iron benches so they could be integrated realistically into the faux river in the platform,[12] which he emphasized by tilting the columns and the dice to create a sense they are being swept along by a moving current.[13] 

In the first half of 1993, Metro Art, the department responsible for implementing the public art policy of the MTA, held a series of meetings in Highland Park to enlist the community in the art creation process by inviting them to join the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) for their area.  The committee first prepared a Community Profile of the neighborhoods surrounding the stations that were planned for the Southwest Museum, Avenue 51, and Avenue 57.  After completing the profile, the CAC elected two members to the five member Artist Selection Panel.  At its first meeting on November 22 1993, the panel reviewed the slides of all the artists in the Metro Art’s artist registry.  Sandoval submitted slides to the registry after he became aware of this requirement while assisting Roberto Gil de Montes in executing his ceramic tile work, Heaven to Earth, at the 7th/Figueroa station of the Red and Blue Lines.[14]  By the end of the day, the panel had created a short list of 34 artists which they further evaluated at their second meeting on December 1.[15]  During that meeting, the panel selected seven finalists.  On December 9, the panel interviewed the artists and then selected Jud Fine for the Avenue 57 or Highland Park Station,  Diane Gamboa for Avenue 51, and Teddy Sandoval for the Southwest Museum Station.[16] 

Sandoval, who lived in Highland Park, developed a design concept that was in part a personal statement of “what brought me into the area”[17]and that would also reflect the uniqueness of the area.  The columns, Victorian era chairs, and images of the Police Museum and the Lummis House all express his love of the area’s architecture.  He also wanted to build on the area’s architectural tradition by embellishing the canopy and incorporating wrought iron decorative fencing to create the illusion that the Southwest Museum Station was an old Victorian train station that had been there for a while.[18]  Sandoval was also drawn to Highland Park by the natural environment, which he expressed with the wave pattern in the fences and the embedded glass in the platform referring to the Arroyo.  He also responded to the darkness of the site that is created by the afternoon shadow of Mt. Washington, by proposing the translucent canopy.[19]  Sandoval did not want this combination of images to be just a personal statement, he also wanted it to transform the station into what the title of his work symbolized: The Highland Park Gateway.

The relationship Sandoval had with Vera Rocha, the late Chieftess of the Gabrielino/Shoshone Nation, which began at a meeting he and the artists of the Gold Line had with her at the Southwest Museum, impacted the choice of some of the images for the ceramic tile panels in the pedestals.  As Sandoval developed images for his installation, he presented them to her for her review and critique.  One image showed the heads of Indians separated from their bodies.  After Rocha told him that it would be offensive to Indians because it suggested the elimination of the soul, he removed it.  Polubinskas, who was assigned responsibility for completing the project after Sandoval died, continued the relationship with Rocha.  Through that relationship, Polubinskas was able to access material at the Southwest Museum that resulted in the ceramic tile images depicting a Gabrielino village and Gabrielino indians rowing a boat.[20] 

One component that Sandoval proposed for the Southwest Museum Station that was not incorporated into the art or construction budget was attaching ceramic tiles on the retaining wall along the stairway that links the station to the child care center east of the station.  Two years prior to being selected as the artist for the station, Sandoval proposed a community tile project as part of the annual Art in the Park festival in nearby Arroyo Seco Park.  Sandoval envisioned people of all ages and ethnicities making tiles over a number of years.  When attached to the wall, the tiles would have created a mosaic of the Highland Park community.  Sandoval felt that by the time the wall was constructed there would be enough tiles accumulated to cover it.  This project, Sandoval felt, would help evoke a sense of ownership in the station and the Gold Line, as well as preserve an individual’s presence in the community.[21]  According to Alan Nakagawa, who was the manager of the art program of the Gold Line when the project began, ceramic tiles were made at the art festival for one or two years but he did not know what happened to them.[22]  Though tiles were not installed because of the lack of funds in the station’s art budget,[23] the wall was constructed so tiles could later be installed.[24]

At the time of his death in 1995, Sandoval had prepared drawing, sketches, specifications and had determined the types of materials for the components of the installation.  Shortly after he died, construction of the light rail stopped because of cost overruns.  During the ensuing “containment period,” which lasted until 2000 when construction resumed under the management of the Pasadena Blue Line Authority (PBLA), the Southwest Museum station was classified as one of three “Landmark” stations on the Gold Line.  These stations were considered gateways to nearby areas and tourist attractions, such as the Southwest Museum, located across Marmion Way.  With this designation, the station was given a larger budget to develop unique visual elements that would respond to the surrounding neighborhood as well as distinguish it from the more standardized stations that were to be constructed elsewhere on the line.  Unlike the other two Landmark stations—Memorial Park in Pasadena and Chinatown Station in Los Angeles, the increased budget enabled many of the art components to be executed because they were integrated into the original station design.[25]  The concrete that was seeded with the colored glass on the platform was in the station’s construction budget and not part of the art budget.  The translucent canopy and gingerbread Victorian ironwork details were also part of the station construction budget.    

During the containment period, Polubinskas, who was Sandoval’s partner and was the sole heir to his estate, was given authority by the MTA to fabricate and install the art.[26] While maintaining the integrity of the original art concept, Polubinskas suggested locations for the columns, and developed the colors of the tile on the guardians in consultation with Jose Aguirre of JA Aguirre Art Studio..[27]  The columns, figures, and some seating elements were fabricated by Carlson & Company and the fern chairs were manufactured by Brown Jordan.[28] 

The design was extensively reviewed by community groups and government agencies.  On February 15, 2001, an overview of the art was presented to the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department Public Art Committee.  Two months later, a presentation was made to the Highland Park Historical Preservation Overlay Zone Committee.  On May 31, the design of the station was presented at a meeting attended by the MTA and the City of Los Angeles, which was followed on June 7 with a presentation of the station’s conceptual design at the PBLA Northeast Community Information Center.[29]  The Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission Public Art Committee approved the conceptual design two weeks later and then referred it to the entire Cultural Affairs Commission, which approved it on August 16, 2001.  On March 2, 2003, the completed “Guardian” figures were unveiled at a meeting held at the Northeast Los Angeles Community Information Center so the public could inspect them close-up.  Shortly after, they were hoisted to the top of the columns and were completely installed for the station dedication on April 26, 2003.

Though Sandoval’s overall design had strong community support, the inclusion of dice became an issue after construction resumed in 2001.  Reacting to the expansion of casinos on reservations in the late 1990s, some employees at the Southwest Museum interpreted the dice as a negative connection of them to Indian gambling.  Responding to this concern, Lesley Elwood of Elwood and Associates, the public art consultant of the PBLA, met with the concerned staff at the museum, explained what the artist was intending to convey with the dice, and invited the museum to express their views in writing.  However, the document was not written, and the controversy died.[30]

Teddy Sandoval (1949 - 1995) received his BA from California State University, Long Beach.  His work was exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the United States, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Museum of American Art, and the San Francisco Art Institute.  Among the more than 40 group shows that included his work was the culturally important Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation exhibition which had a nation-wide tour in major United States museums. 

Paul Polubinskas (1950 - ) received his A.A. degree from Albany Business College, New York.  He is a business representative of artists and a ceramic arts fabricator.  In addition to being responsible for the fabrication and installation of the artwork at the Highland Park Gateway, he has exhibited his work in group shows in Los Angeles. 

[1] Paul Polubinskas, interviewed by Michael Several, April 24, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Southwest Museum Station, Artist Teddy Sandoval, Design Concept Narrative, February 19, 2001.

[4] Polubinskas, Op. Cit.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Design Concept Narrative, February 19, 2001, Op. Cit.

[8] Polubinskas, Op. Cit.

[9] Alan Nakagawa, interviewed by Michael Several, June 4, 2008.

[10] Polubinskas, Op. Cit.

[11] Letter from Teddy Sandoval to Alan Nakagawa, October 18, 1994.

[12] Polubinskas, Op. Cit.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Pasadena Blue Line A-R-T Short List, 12.1.93. Southwest Museum, Avenue 51 & Avenue 57 stations.

[16] Southwest Museum, Avenue 51 & Avenue 57 Blue Line Station A-R-T Schedule of Meetings, no date; Finalist Interviews, December 9, 1993.

[17] Interview with Teddy Sandoval, by Diane Alexander, Arroyo Arts Collective, Vol. 5, No. 2, March-April 1994.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Polubinskas, Op. Cit.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Nakagawa, Op. Cit.

[23] Project Note, La Cañada Design Group, March 25, 1993.

[24] Polubinskas, Op. Cit.

[25] Lesley Elwood, interviewed by Michael Several, August 7, 2008.

[26] Letter from Paul Polubinskas to Alan Nakagawa re: Teddy Sandoval-Southwest Museum Station, March 8, 1996.

[27] Polubinskas, interview, Op. Cit.

[28] Art Elements: Methods and Materials Conservation Review Sheet, Southwest Museum Station, attached to Fax transmittal from Lesley Elwood to Robert Holmquist, Kiewit/Washington, July 25, 2001.

[29] Open House Reminder, from Lesley Elwood, to Beth Thielen, Chusien Chang, Cheri Gaulke, Roberto Delgado, Paul Polubinskas, Jud Fine, re: Open House at French Avenue Site Office, May 16, 2001.

[30] Elwood interview, Op. Cit.