Back in February 2013, my brother and I walked along the route of Metro‘s then-planned Gold Line Foothill Extension. Even though Foothill Extension is 18 kilometers long, thanks to detours and construction, our walk from Pasadena to Azusa ended up being stretched to 27 kilometers. The newly-opened train lane reduces that distance and travel time considerably.
Now one can theoretically ride from Azusa to East Los Angeles without transferring. After the completion of the Downtown Regional Connector, Azusa will connect to Long Beach. The line is then ultimately due to stretch all the way to the Ontario International Airport. In the meantime maybe we can remove cars from the 210 Freeway and replace them with affordable housing and greenspace — two things Angelenos need much more than intra-city interstate freeways.
Construction of the Gold Line’s Footline Extension began in 2011 and the line was scheduled for completion in 2015. The Foothill communities, for the most part, are residential suburbs and not, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the San Gabriel Valley. That would be the Far Eastside, a collection of pan-Asian plurality communities served by Metro’s Silver Line, although converting that rapid transit bus to a train — and adding a stop at the intersection of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead, and San Gabriel — would vastly improve the functionality and appeal of that Metro line.
The Foothill Extension will thus probably be more useful and appealing for residents of the Foothill communities than for resident tourists and explorers. Now they’ll be able to ride not just to Pasadena, Downtown, East Los Angeles and points in between, but with a single transfer to the Antelope Valley, Ventura County, San Bernardino County, Riverside County, Orange County, San Diego County, and Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, the Mideast Side, the Eastside, South Los Angeles’s Westside, and Midtown regions. After the completion of the Downtown Regional Connector you’ll be able to add the Harbor, the Westside, and South Los Angeles’s Eastside to the list of regions.
METRO GOLD LINE PHASE 2B & BEYOND
The next phase of Gold Line construction will be the 20 kilometer Phase 2B. That will connect the San Gabriel Valley suburbs of Glendora and San Dimas with the Pomona Valley suburbs of La Verne, Pomona, Claremont, and Montclair (and thus Metrolink‘s San Bernardino Line). After that, the train will head to Ontario Airport. In the meantime that airport is served by Amtrak‘s Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle, and Metrolink‘s Riverside Line.
The communities of the Foothills will also themselves grow more interesting and appealing with the addition of a train. With that in mind I set out to ride the newly-opened rails with friends Adrienne, Diana, and Susie on its opening day — additionally exploring the area around the stations along the way.
I took the 96 Line to Chinatown, where I boarded a mostly empty Gold Line train. On the train I heard two railfans speculating about the final destination of a freight train we passed on the way to the Eastside but otherwise there was little sign of eager rail explorers. I met my friends near the platform in South Pasadena and we traveled on — first to the far end and then making our way back.
At the former terminus of the line, Sierra Madre Villa Station, we were joined by a large mob of eager riders. Located in Lower Hastings Ranch, it has (since its opening in 2003) seemed to me to be located in the middle of nowhere. Nearby are box stores and fast food chains. About the only thing to recommend in the station’s immediate vicinity is A Noise Within, a theater company which relocated there in 2011 after nineteen years in Glendale.
When the train arrived in Azusa-Citrus, located between the campuses of Azusa Pacific University and Glendora’s Citrus Community College, we decided to stay on board. At every other station there’d been activities and music but at this, the terminus of train, there was only an apparently endless line and a not especially interesting parking structure. It’s my opinion that institutions of higher education tend to elevate their surroundings by offering cultural programing and the schools are home to the Warehouse Theater and Haugh Performing Arts Center but we were all frankly surprised that there was nothing to do next to the station except twiddle thumbs whilst waiting to reboard the train. A Metro official announced that we were all to exit the train and so we did, but rather than wait in annoyed silence to re-board the train we walked the short distance to the next station.
AZUSA DOWNTOWN STATION
Azusa Downtown Station, in Downtown Azusa, has a small town atmosphere and is home to a handful of appealing restaurants. We decided to head to Congregation Ale House. Although Diana ordered sweet potato fries and an espresso, the woman taking her order insisted that she’d ordered non-existent sweet potato tots (not a bad idea!) and gave her something which I think may’ve been seltzer water. The rest of us got our meals as ordered and I think were reasonably happy. Since I wasn’t drinking, I made a mental bookmark for a future train-enabled pub crawl.
We opted to remain on the train as we pulled into Irwindale Station, no longer hungry nor thrilled by the prospect of waiting another 45 minutes to re-board the train. Irwindale is a sparsely populated, industrial suburb best known for the presence of multiple gravel quarries, the MillerCoors macrobrewery, and Huy Fong‘s sriracha plant.
DUARTE/CITY OF HOPE STATION
On the Gold Line walk, construction had prevented my brother’s and my approach of the Duarte/City of Hope Station. This time we stopped only to allow others to hop off and on the train, as the activities near the station seemed to be geared towards children or of use to those with business at the City of Hope National Medical Center. There may be other attractions in the area but again, we didn’t want to risk the 45 minute wait to re-board the train with only a bouncy house and face-painting to raise our spirits.
When we previously visited Monrovia Station there wasn’t much that we found nearby to recommend… just some warehouses, light industry, and more box stores and chain restaurants. Now there’s the brand new Station Square Transit Village. The old Monrovia Station was being restored and was thus sadly not open.
There was a new bandshell, though, where we were treated to the sight and sound of people dancing to Mr. C The Slide Man‘s “Cha Cha Slide,” a nearly twenty-year-old song which strangely remains a ubiquitous staple of bar mitzvahs and weddings.
We headed south from the station to Pacific Plate Brewing. It’s the smallest licensed brewery in Southern California, located in the back of a particularly charmless business park, and if you weren’t paying utmost attention or seeking it out there’s almost no chance that you’d find it. My comrades sampled many of the beers and I added it to my planned pub crawl.
When we headed back to Monrovia Station it was already mostly deserted, the booths were closed, and the music had stopped. The Foothill Extension party had ended and this was now just another stop on the nation’s longest light rail line — albeit one with a pleasing water feature.
The last stop was Arcadia Station, located within walking distance of Santa Anita Park (a thoroughbred racetrack which has hosted the 626 Night Market since 2013), the sprawling Westfield Santa Anita Mall, the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Arcadia’s “Restaurant Row,” the Arcadia Historical Museum, and the Santa Anita Golf Course.
Since I walked the Gold Line, the beloved One Hundred To One Cocktail Lounge has sadly closed. Luckily, Drinker’s Hall of Fame is still there, as is the First Cabin Bar — a bar which I’ve yet to visit but which two others recommended to us in our travels. As we passed it by, alerted of its presence by a cloud of cigar smoke, a woman puffing away outside sternly stated, “best bar in town!”
After walking around Arcadia for a bit, including a stop at Claro’s Italian Market, we headed back to the Gold Line. Even as the detritus of the festivities was still being swept away, riders already seemed to be taking the train for granted; mostly just by being nonchalant but in at least one sad case, littering sunflower seeds like a heathen.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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