Positively Second Street: L.A.'s Tunnel Vision

The L.A Times' car-biz writer Dan Neil has a great piece on the Second Street Tunnel -- its history, going back to 1924; its schizoid appearance, depending on which end you enter, and how it's "probably the most recognizable city landmark most Americans have never heard of," having figured in films from Blade Runner to The Soloist. We've all seen some of those movies, in which the reflected light of the tunnel's glazed white tiles massages the windshield of a character's car, or the tiles themselves glimmer liquidescently in a hero's headlights.

The reality, of course, is somewhat different. Driving through the tunnel lately reminds one of how grimy this stretch of road beneath Bunker Hill really is, with some of those once-brilliant tiles' shiny enamel completely chipped off. And, while the tunnel usually appears laundromat-bright in movies and commercials, it can often seem depressingly underlit. Neil's point, however, is that while the tunnel was once a magnet for car-commercial shoots, so far this year not a single auto-company ad has been scheduled there, let alone shot. Perhaps they've all been drawn away to the steps of Disney Hall, but Neil suggests it's because of the crippling blows the car industry has suffered over the past year.

It seems, however, that the city, if enterprising enough, could use the

tunnel for other kinds of commercial projects. Perhaps build a Blade Runner museum

or create a themed walking tour that begins in the tunnel and ends at

the Bradbury Building on Broadway. After all, Harrison Ford's blaster

pistol from the film will soon be put on the auction block

and is being touted by  the Profiles in History auction house as worth

between $100,000 and $150,000. Why not make the tunnel a year-round

tourist destination?

Perhaps the city could sell individual tiles -- the way the New York

Yankees sold off the seats of its old stadium -- and use the money to

buy new ones. Or maybe L.A. could sell donor or naming rights for each

tile. This would make sense if the tunnel's car traffic were to be

reduced to two lanes, and the resulting extra space turned into a

shopping mall, a la the Times Square subway concourse. Just thinking.

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