By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
With ukuleles and opera, mariachi and taiko drums, Little Tokyo and the City of Los Angeles welcomed the long-anticipated opening of the Metro Regional Connector on Friday.
Actor and activist George Takei served as master of ceremonies and called it a “propitious day” for the city, noting that a subway system that connected Los Angeles was a dream of the late Mayor Tom Bradley.
Decades later, the completion of the Metro Regional Connector marks a crucial new phase for the city’s transit system.
Metro Board Chairman Ara Najarian said the new A and E rail lines and three new stations will save 20 minutes of commute time by eliminating the need to transfer at Union Station.
“We’ve stitched together the A, E and L lines into two rail lines that are easer, faster and more convenient. The Azusa to Long Beach line is 50 miles, which in my view makes it the longest transit rail line in the country, if not the world,” Najarian said.
Several hundred gathered in the JANM Plaza to mark the occasion, including construction workers in hard hats, dignitaries and Little Tokyo stakeholders who have been there since the project was first conceived more than 10 years ago.
Rimban William Briones offered the invocation, mere yards from where the members of Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple once worshiped and where in 1942, Japanese Americans gathered with their belongings to be sent to far-away concentration camps.
Among those in attendance were Sen. Alex Padilla, Mayor Karen Bass, Senior Presidential Advisor Mitch Landrieu, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, Supervisor Hilda Solis and State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo.
Padilla said Angelenos tend to mark commutes by the time it takes to get to a destination. The new line promises to cut down commute times.
“This is a BFD! A beautiful, fine day in L.A.” Padilla exclaimed.
The mayor remarked that the Regional Connector brought the city closer to having a world-class transportation system.
“With this opening, traveling across the region can be easier and more accessible, all while Metro works to make the experience safer, cleaner and more welcoming for today’s and future riders,” Bass said.
Solis thanked the residents and businesses of Little Tokyo and Bunker Hill who lived through the construction. She noted that the Business Interruption Fund was created to help mom-and-pop businesses stay open.
Solis said with the opening of Regional Connector, more people will be able to enjoy visiting places like the Japanese American National Museum, Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Broad Museum.
“Communities across the county will now have more seamless transit options because the Regional Connector has knit our rail system together,” said Solis.
The newly rebuilt Little Tokyo/Arts District station replaces the facility that was located across the intersection at Alameda and First Street. The new station was dedicated to the late Norman Mineta, former U.S. secretary of transportation and JANM Board of Trustees chair.
Sons David Mineta and Robert Bratner unveiled a plaque to their father, who participated in discussions during the development of both the Regional Connector and West Santa Ana Branch projects.
Many observed that naming the station in honor of Mineta was a fitting testament to his commitment to social justice and equality.
A video showed his roots in San Jose and visits to Heart Mountain, Wyo., where he was incarcerated as a boy. The new transit station connects his vision of equality through public transportation and his support of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities.
Via video, Deni Brantner Mineta, the late secretary’s wife, said, “I know Norm would be so humbled, honored and so so pleased that this day happened.”
At noon, the Little Tokyo/Arts District Station opened, giving the public the first opportunity to ride the new rail line and view the artwork created by Audrey Chan and featuring many members of the Little Tokyo community.
The other new stations in the project are Historic Broadway and Grand Avenue Arts/Bunker Hill.
Metro is marking the occasion with free rides throughout the network through the weekend.
At the conclusion, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held with streamers of blue and gold and a performance by East L.A. Taiko.
Afterwards, architect Ted Tanaka smiled as he looked at the station across from the JANM Plaza. He has been working on the project since its inception.
“I’m very happy to see what’s going on and what we accomplished. We went through a lot, but it was a lot of fun,” Tanaka said. “It is a great station. This is the only station in the whole system where you get daylight into the platform. It’s very shallow here, so you can see the platform from the plaza level. It’s a beautiful station.”
Regional Connector Reactions
Michael Okamura, president, Little Tokyo Historical Society: “This is a remarkable day. (This opening) brought a really wide-ranging, very diverse group of people together, like the Regional Connector project will do. We want people to come to Little Tokyo and explore, get to appreciate the history and everything that Little Tokyo has to offer. I hope the Regional Connector will also encourage people in this neighborhood to venture out into other regions of the county.”
Patty Nagano, Little Tokyo resident: “I think it was good that there are many people here (at the opening ceremony) from different walks of life, celebrating together. We can all move hopefully in the same direction. It’s nice for us, living in Little Tokyo, to know that this is happening.”
Steve Nagano, filmmaker and Little Tokyo Sparkle organizer: “There’s going to be a wave of changes that are gradually going to take place in Little Tokyo. Even though we can’t necessarily avoid the changes, we’ve got to take some action to preserve Little Tokyo. We need to adapt to what we’d like Little Tokyo to be.”
Nancy Uyemura, artist and resident: “I think it was good to name the station after Norman Mineta. That was a wise thing to do. It brings the community and Metro and JANM together, and that’s a good thing.”
The Rafu Shimpo’s Mikey Hirano Culross and Ellen Endo contributed to this report.
Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo