Singing Space in the Second Street Tunnel


Anyone who has traversed through downtown in a vehicle or on a bicycle has probably entered the Second Street Tunnel that connects Figueroa and Hill streets. Known more for its use in TV commercials and films, the tunnel is not as inviting to a walker, much less a congregation of walkers intent on publically serenading the streets of Los Angeles.

Undeterred by the thin sidewalks within the tunnel, Public Space Singalong creator Jessica Cowley organized a public participatory signing event in the tunnel one night in August of last year, with the aim to re-imagine it as a public space to engage folks to participate in a sing-along.

After taking an event curation class at Machine Project, Cowley, who is a trained urban planner, states the inspiration for one of her class' final assignments came from her desire "to transform a public space where culture and community isn't normally experienced into a performance venue." Simultaneously, during the final weeks of her class, she was in the process of planning one of her occasional living room sing-alongs at her residence, when she "was biking through the Second Street Tunnel singing a Fleetwood Mac song at the top of my lungs and admiring the acoustics. Things just sort of went from there!"

Photo by John Knuth/Public Space Singalong
Photo by John Knuth/Public Space Singalong
Photo by John Knuth/Public Space Singalong
Photo by John Knuth/Public Space Singalong

What resulted was the extension of the sing-along from the coziness of a living room to the inconspicuous space of the Second Street tunnel. Dozens of willing participants gathered at the northwest corner of Figueroa and Second streets before heading into the tunnel as anticipative public carolers. Cowley, guitar in hand, led fellow musicians with various instruments, giant cardboard hands, and multiple copies of lyrics of the songs to be sung that night to pass around to participants. The song list was space-inspired (of the Star Trek kind) as Neil Armstrong had passed away earlier that month.

The approximately 30-minute space-themed set in the Second Street tunnel engaged urban space with a visually and sonically arresting public performance. The resulting soundscape created a tunnel focused on singing human bodies versus the whizzing by of cars. In fact, cars and the drivers behind the wheels became engaged themselves in the public performance, and instead of racing through the tunnel the drivers slowly rolled by and asked singers what was going on.

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Public Space Singalong as a public performance sings testimonies of what and how urban space in Los Angeles can be curated to engage Angelenos. It wasn't too long ago that the Second Street tunnel, like most of downtown, felt like a ghost town after business hours in the '80s and '90s. Downtown is now more populated with new residents and a thriving art and restaurant scene. What continues to make downtown and other parts of L.A. potentially fun, and not just a blueprint for commerce, are curated pop-up street performances like Public Space Singalong that show the vibrancy of the city's inhabitants who resist a L.A. that alienates; such events call for spontaneous use of space that engages participants in group activities that will be shared with the rest of the city.

For future Public Space Singalongs, keep an eye for updates on their website.

Watch the Public Space Singalong performance of David Bowie's "Starman" edited by "Deb Helt with extra footage by George Villanueva:

Public Space Singalong: 2nd Street Tunnel

Top: Photo by John Knuth/Public Space Singalong

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