Cyclists tour LA and kick off summer arts at Pershing Square

Vanessa Gray of Silver Lake (left) and her friend Alice Strong (right) of San Gabriel meet on Pershing Square just before their 18-mile bike tour through Los Angeles on June 27, 2010.
Vanessa Gray of Silver Lake (left) and her friend Alice Strong (right) of San Gabriel meet on Pershing Square just before their 18-mile bike tour through Los Angeles on June 27, 2010. C. J. Dablo/KPCC

While most Southern Californians may hope to get away from a dense urban landscape for the weekend, L.A.’s Pershing Square invited city-lovers on Sunday to jump on their bikes to tour the town and start off the summer enjoying art and music in the heart of downtown.

“I really enjoy the fact that here we are downtown L.A., on a bicycle,” South Pasadena resident Andy Au said.

The Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department hosted its fifth annual “Meet Your Neighbor Day,” where many chose to explore the city on two wheels and later enjoy a park transformed by the city’s art community.

Even though he drives around the city all the time, Au said he didn’t think he had been in Pershing Square since he was a kid. The 45-year-old father wanted to offer his kids a chance to appreciate L.A. life and its historical buildings.

“That’s the thing about downtown... most people just work here,” Au said. “They just drive through here, but you have to look up. Most of the ground level of downtown is traffic and oftentimes ugliness and oftentimes stuff that, you know, isn’t that beautiful.”

Au’s kids, Amber, 12, and Eric, 10, fed pigeons under a giant Michael Jackson mural made up of individual aluminum cans.

“But if you can stop and look up, you can see amazing architecture... there’s all this craftsmanship here.”

An estimated 300 bicyclists lined up for a quick yoga stretch after 9 a.m. before they pedaled through the course along the Discovery Bike Ride, an 18-mile trek across Los Angeles. The route started and ended at the park on Olive and Sixth Street.

The LAPD helped to clear the path for the estimated 300 explorers as they navigated through the city streets, breezing through the fashion district and gliding past other points of interest.

“I can’t wait to see some of the hidden gems that maybe I haven’t seen,” a bubbly Vanessa Gray, dressed in a hot pink top, said just before the ride.

Gray, a resident of Silver Lake, was looking forward to tour city landmarks with a police escort that would clear the usual city traffic.

Cyclists of all ages wheeled through Cornfields Park, L.A. Live and other landmarks before they returned to Pershing Square to enjoy live entertainment and the Art-Squared Gallery, an outdoor art exhibit.

Alice Strong, a 57-year-old San Gabriel resident with a sunflower that arched over her bicycle helmet, returned for her second year on the Discovery Bike Ride. She was thrilled to follow the throngs of fellow cyclists over the bridges on Fouth and Sixth streets and through darkened street tunnels.

“It was like floating through the night,” Strong said of the mysterious tunnels.

Pershing Square was largely empty most of the morning while the cyclists were touring the city, but just before they returned in the late morning, artists began to transform the square into an outdoor art gallery. Sculptures, paintings, quilts and murals dotted the concrete park surrounded by a towering city landscape.

Artist Ryan Schmidt polished his stainless-steel sculptures until they gleamed like teardrop mirrors in the midday sun.

In another corner, fellow artist Peter Vannon had stitched together a 10-foot-tall Native American goddess from a gleaming white spinnaker’s sail cloth. A motor at the base inflated the giant female that stood defiant over a shady patch of grass.

Vannon is planning an art installment next May where giant 120-foot tall helium balloon females like his 10-foot prototype will tower over several Los Angeles skyscrapers.

The Sunday event is the first of many summer activities the city’s parks and recreation department has planned in Pershing Square.

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