Throughout Toluca Lake, previously nondescript Los Angeles Department of Transportation utility boxes have been transformed into urban art pieces, including a pair designed by lifelong Toluca Lake resident and artist Mckenzie Allyn, 23.
The boxes are a part of Councilmember David Ryu’s Utility Box Art Program, launched in 2017, which sponsors local artists to turn standard utility boxes into works of public art. To participate, Allyn had to apply and submit a concept art piece.
Once she got the good news that she was approved, she started the two-week process of creating her first utility box — priming and painting the background blue before adding sketches and details on top.
Allyn witnessed the power of the utility box transformation firsthand, fielding questions from interested passersby as she painted. “No one ever noticed it, and even when I just painted it blue, it already got so much attention because people could see it from far away,” she says.
Allyn’s utility boxes both sit on Riverside Drive, with the blue one featuring a swan design at the intersection of Ledge Avenue, and another at Talofa Avenue depicting a map of the neighborhood’s streets.
“I picked swans because they are the symbol of Toluca Lake,” Allyn says. “The street names to me are very iconic in Toluca Lake, and you don’t see them anywhere else. I also wanted it to be more interactive, so people would go up and point out where they live.”
On the map-themed utility box, several swans painted throughout Toluca Lake’s streets represent homes in which Allyn has lived in the neighborhood — a place she’s quick to admit is close to her heart. “I feel we are a close-knit community, and I love that I know my neighbors and we have events to get all the neighbors together, like National Night Out and the Fourth of July parade,” she says. “I love that I know my mailman, the garbage man, everyone.”