Gate Takes Wing From a Dream


Some dreams are worth remembering.

For the last 10 years, the city of Los Angeles--primarily the Community Redevelopment Agency and the City Council office of Mike Hernandez--had been searching for a way to mark an entrance to Chinatown. About three years ago, the project got off the ground.

Seventeen designers competed for the assignment. Rupert Mok, a Walnut-based architect, won for his rendition of two dragons poised on a metal framework above North Broadway, just north of Cesar E. Chavez Avenue.

Mok's design came to him in a dream: "How did I get this vision? Just one-tenth of milliseconds. The dream was, I ran across North Broadway, and I saw a skeleton across the street with two dragons flying on top of it, facing each other, with a pearl right in the middle."

The Gateway to Chinatown Monument, unveiled last Thursday, is intended as one more way to attract visitors, residents and tourists to the historic district. The city's ongoing programs include street entertainment, art and film festivals.

Once Mok's vision was accepted, he spent the next two years fine-tuning it through computer renderings and hand drawings. He formed Rupert Mok & Architects in 1984 and has done a range of private and public buildings and projects in Asia and the U.S. But he called this the project of his life.

The Chinese-born architect envisioned his dragons as descending from a cloud. "The dragons cannot stand on the sky," Mok pointed out.

Maybe not, but Mok made the dragons appear that way. Painted in traditional bright gold with red flames at the elbows, the two facing dragons are about 43 feet above ground. The dragons are on an 80-foot-wide steel truss welded to eight steel pipes.

Two 3,000-pound fiberglass gatekeeper dragons have fins on their backs, scales on the sides of their bodies, and snakeskin on their bellies. Mok said the traditional Chinese five fingers on each paw represent the highest authority. In describing his "babies," Mok also noted that the whiskers--dragons have two each--are 10 to 15 feet long, with a 3-inch diameter tapering to 1 inch at the tip.

The curved dragons are each 35 to 40 feet long. (If straightened out, each would stretch to about 70 feet.) Aluminum mesh on both sides of the dragons create the cloud-like effect along with a misting system with nozzles tucked underneath the dragons. The fine spray of water will make the dragons appear to fly in the clouds.

Mok said the community will decide, given energy conservation, how often to use the lights and water effects.

The two dragons face one another, one looking down with its mouth wide open, and the other looking up with its mouth only slightly ajar. An opaque-fiberglass pearl appears to float between them, held up by a steel bracket. Mok said eventually a light will go inside the pearl so that it will glow from within. The pearl represents longevity and prosperity.

Mok made the taller of the two dragons look more aggressive; the other one is more defensive, subtle and protective. "Whether they are female or male, I will leave to everyone else."

There is no guess work about what the monument represents to the architect. "This is a Chinese phrase, a saying," said Mok. "These two dragons representing all the people from China and here, all the people in the city of L.A. The dragons want this to be a peaceful land, [where people] live and work together with prosperity and longevity."


Candace A. Wedlan can be reached at

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