Sunday, March 15, 2009

What Goes Around Comes Around

The Bergamot Station in Santa Monica has a rich history dating back to 1875, when it was a stop on the Red Car trolley line running from Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Pier. When the trolley cars ceased operating in 1953, the site's warehouse buildings housed a variety of industrial uses , until 1989 when the City of Santa Monica purchased the property with plans to use it once again as a transit stop for a proposed light railway line.
The plans were shelved indefinitely, prompting the City to accept local gallery owner and developer Wayne Blank's proposal to turn the complex into a campus-like artistic space. The Bergamot Station art-gallery-version was reborn in 1994. It has since become a renowned art destination hosting an eclectic mix of art galleries and businesses, as well as the Santa Monica Museum of Art.But now that the plans for the Expo Line light railway line have been dusted off and well underway, there are talks of returning the Bergamot to its initial destiny: transit. As it turns out, the City acquired the site with transit funds "requiring any interim use be such that rail-related purposes could be introduced readily," says the SMDP. Everyone agrees that the Bergamot has become an important cultural destination, but the pressure is clearly on. "Is it too valuable to Santa Monica to disrupt?" asks the SMDP, echoing the debate currently raging on.
Anticipating this eventuality, Blank purchased land surrounding the Bergamot, with plans to expand on the area by creating a light rail station and a 150-room hotel. "This would breathe life into the area, which is home to large commercial buildings and old factories," comments the SMDP. Not all gallery owners are excited about sharing space with a maintenance yard; neither are residents, concerned about the impact on the community.
Returning the Bergamot to its original use while expanding on its status as a premiere art venue may rattle a few feathers, but there doesn't seem to be better, lower impact alternatives if the light railway line is to run all the way to the sea. "You have people who will say, 'Fine, if you don’t want to build light rail, then stop it in Culver City and give us the money,'" says Expo Line board member Pam O'Connor. That's not an option: we would all be losers.

It's a tough, complex issue, but in the end it's all about good planning and design. The good news is that the debate is out in the open, so stay tuned. More details via SMDP. Curbed LA update: Architects Dreaming: Bergamot Station Sandwich Proposed.