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
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.