Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From the Archives: 20 Years Ago - Christo’s Umbrellas

Most of the calls we’ve been getting about I-5's Tejon Pass as of late are from motorists asking about road conditions. But in 1991, the Tejon Pass was a hot topic for another reason: Christo’s umbrellas.

Twenty years ago, the Pass, best known for its severe winter weather, was transformed into a giant palette by famed environmental artist Christo. The project, called “The Umbrellas Joint Project for Japan and USA,” was a temporary installation consisting of 3,100 octagonal umbrellas, each standing nearly 20 feet tall, randomly placed along the countryside through the Tejon Pass and 72 miles north of Tokyo. A team of people opened the umbrellas at dawn, while crowds watched from frontage roads, taking photos and eating picnic breakfasts. The goal of the exhibit was to reflect the similarities in the ways of life of two inland valleys in the U.S. and Japan.

Caltrans wrote the unprecedented encroachment permit for the umbrellas and devised the traffic management plan for the exhibit area. Special “No Parking” signs were erected to prevent people from parking on the freeway (yep, it happened), and electronic signs were used to direct motorists to frontage roads to view the installation. Despite the thousands of people who turned out to see the umbrellas, the congestion that many had worried about never materialized. Three weeks after the yellow umbrellas went up, they were taken down and recycled.