Gateway to Los Angeles

Gateway to L.A. — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

Gateway to Los Angeles

(Twin Dragons)

Spanning The 101 Freeway at Los Angeles Street and Main Street, you will find two sculptures that work in concert to greet newcomers to the City of Los Angeles.

Gateway to L.A. — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

The Gateway to Los Angeles

As you drive into Downtown Los Angeles on the Hollywood Freeway (The 101 North), you’ll pass beneath a pair of complementary sculptures known together xas the Gateway to Los Angeles.

One sculpture spans the freeway along Los Angeles Street and the other one stretches above what was once El Camino Real on Main Street. Each sculpture is more than 100 feet wide and 20 feet tall.

They’re certainly striking structures, but they’re very easy to miss when you’re riding along the constantly dense traffic of The 101 — especially the structure along Main Street. To really appreciate the Gateway to Los Angeles, visiting them from on top of the freeway overpasses is your best bet.

A view of the LA Pergola, a two-part sculpture facing southeast from Main Street. The Main Street Pergola is in the foreground, the Los Angles Street Pergola is in the background Photo from the author’s collection.

Although these two sculptures are known as the Gateway to Los Angeles, they are also stand-alone structures. They’re also known collectively as LA Pergolas and individually as the Los Angeles Street Pergola and the Main Street Pergola.

These two structures act in concert to welcome all visitors to Los Angeles and also provide a modicum of shade to pedestrians heading to both Olvera Street (possibly to visit Los 44 Pobadores) and Chinatown. But they also said to provide electrical power to nearby people — though there are scant details on how this power can be accessed.

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These twin sculptures, collaborators Jenna Didier, the late Oliver Hess, Ned Khan, and Marcos Luytens (for a time the quartet were part of a long-defunct art collective), were first commissioned in 2007 by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs in conjunction with the Bureau of Engineering. Of course, because of the sculpture’s location, every transit-related agency in the city and state (i.e., DoT, Caltrans, MTA) had to provide feedback about the designs, so the whole process took nearly a decade.

The Gateway to Los Angeles was finally finished in 2015, alas without much fanfare.

Los Angeles Street Pergola

The Los Angles Street Pergola is all waves and dragons. Photo from the author’s collection.

This sculpture, even with its blossom-stamped aluminum panels suspended between curved steel beams with steel netting, evokes an organic feel. It’s designed to represent the waves of Southern California beaches (which can be experienced in person some 14 miles to the west). But it’s also intended to evoke images of dragons that are part of the annual Chinese New Year celebrations that take place just a quarter-mile to east.

Detail of the blossom panels of the Los Angeles Street Pergola. Photo from the author’s collection.

Its striking aluminum panels are embedded with LEDs that light up at night, supposedly replaying a visualization of the data about seismic activity, pollution levels, and weather collected during the day.

Main Street Pergola

The stark industrial chic of the Main Street Pergola. Photo from the author’s collection.

The other sculpture on Main Street stands as an industrial counterpoint to its partner sculpture’s organic look. The Main Street Pergola is made of a series of steel poles with steel cross beams set at right angles and offering a minimal bit of shade along the street.

Main Street Pergola showing off its crossbeams. Photo from the author’s collection.

These horizontal beams sway with the movement of pedestrians and, like the Los Angeles Street Pergola, that data is replayed via a series of LEDs mounted at the ends of the beams extending over the sidewalk.

Didier has said that when the Main Street Pergola moves, it’s reminiscent Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec deity known as the Feathered Serpent. As such, it’s intended to pay tribute to to El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the birthplace of the city.

Because each sculpture pays tribute to a different dragon, sculptor Didier also refers to Gateway to Los Angeles as the Twin Dragons (though this is not to be confused with the Dragons of Chinatown two blocks away on Broadway).

Forgotten People, Forgotten Monuments

In the seven years since the Gateway to Los Angeles has been completed, the sidewalk under each of these sculptures regularly attracts homeless encampments. In December 2015, shortly after the Gateway to Los Angeles was completed, the Los Angeles Times covered the issue of homeless encampments above The 101.

Despite including a photograph showing what is clearly a tent village under the Main Street Pergola, there was no mention of the Gateway to Los Angeles.

The incorporation of electronics with an otherwise mostly disregarded sculpture also calls to mind the Triforium, the unfairly beleaguered sculpture just a block away in Fletcher Bowron Square.


Near a dying mall in Downtown Los Angeles you can visit the world’s first polyphonoptic sculpture, an odd-looking, multi-colored tower of concrete and glass known as the Triforium. Unveiled in 1975 to wildly mixed reviews, it’s a conceptual creation well ahead of its time.

Keep reading

Gateway to Los Angeles (Twin Dragons)

Los Angeles Pergola

  • 396 Los Angeles St, Downtown Los Angeles (between Aliso St and Arcadia St)
  • GPS Coordinates: 34.054968, -118.239533 [ Google Maps ]
  • what3words: ///buzz.last.robe

Main Street Pergola

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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