From the fast lane of Interstate 5, heading north, the Taylor Yard is an unremarkable stretch of old railroad tracks, weedy vacant lots and big-box buildings. But those who look down on the yard from the high, winding residential streets of Echo Park can imagine a different and brighter future.
At its peak during the 1950s, Taylor Yard employed thousands of people, servicing and repairing the trains that chugged in and out of Los Angeles. Most of those operations have now shifted east to Colton, leaving the Union Pacific railroad, which now owns the entire property, with some 200 acres to sell.
The land is zoned for industrial use, and already some parcels have been sold and others are in escrow. But the wide yard borders the Los Angeles River, meaning this dreary stretch near downtown could be transformed into a scenic multiuse resource for city-weary neighbors in nearby Echo Park, Mount Washington and Elysian Park.
The choice here is not between development and no development. Already a Federal Express facility has gone up on the yard, a metal plating business is in the process of relocating and plans include construction of buildings for sound stages and other light industrial uses.
Instead, the choice is between industrial development alone and more thoughtful planning that includes industry and taking advantage of this unusually wide, flat spot along the river to create a greenbelt, recreational facilities and river walks, even retail shops and restaurants.
Because the Taylor Yard is zoned for industrial use, Union Pacific can do pretty much what it wants with the land. City planners, neighbors and the Friends of the Los Angeles River have few if any policy levers they can pull to move the railroad in a more public-spirited direction.
But the idea of a multiuse public resource makes such good sense that the mayor's office, state Sens. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) and Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) and others are looking for park funds and tax and other incentives to encourage the Union Pacific to embrace that vision.
Although some local planners gush that the Taylor Yard could become like San Antonio's charming Riverwalk, that's unlikely. Still, with a little planning and civic spirit, the yard could be a lot prettier than an ordinary industrial area and a much more valuable asset to its neighbors, Union Pacific and the rest of the city.