By Fredrick Kunkle
There are probably a lot of Metro lovers who would happily pay admission to watch a sculptor chop up a subway car.
Metro haters would probably pay even more.
The work is violent, noisy, smelly and at times even beautiful — as when Robert “Mojo” Mojeski climbs onto the rail car with a welding device and zaps the steel carcass in a blue-and-white shower of sparks.
The work goes fast, too. Mojo, as he prefers to be called, needs to transform a 40-ton rail car into retail kiosks that will be installed at Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station next month. He has until the grand opening May 17 to finish the job he started five days ago at a warehouse in Brookeville.
In that time, the Metro car’s distinctive, push me-pull you seats and their 1970s orange upholstery will go, to be cut free and transformed into park benches. Metro’s system map, with its classic graphic design of multicolored spaghetti, will stay to brighten the kiosk’s interior. When Mojo and his team are finished, the kiosks will be placed on the pedestrian plaza that is now mostly a concrete wasteland populated by newspaper boxes.
“It’s about, ‘How do you enliven this dead space?’ ” said Ron Kaplan, a co-founder of the real estate firm behind the project.
Mojo’s functional artwork came about as part of a proposed housing development envisioned for the Grosvenor-Strathmore station. Fivesquares Development, which built Symphony Park near the station and close to Montgomery County’s Strathmore Center performance hall, is in the early planning for a mixed-use development atop the station called Strathmore Square.
Kaplan and co-founder Andrew Altman have experience working on projects such as London’s Olympic Park, Bethesda Row, the Anacostia riverfront and Whitman-Walker Health’s Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center on 14th Street NW in the District.
The kiosks are part of a broader experiment by Metro to allow pop-up retail stands that could bring in money without, the agency hopes, littering its trains with food. The kiosks at Grosvenor, for example, will sell prepared food but only on a few days of the week and only during the afternoon and evening rush hour.
Kaplan said the idea is that people will be able to pick up a loaf of bread or other small items on the way home.
Kaplan said he liked the idea of reusing one of the Series 4000 rail cars that Metro has been scrapping since February after a quarter-century of hard use. The cars — which were built by the Italian company Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie SpA. — went into service in 1991 at a cost to Metro of about $1.3 million each. By the end of their run, each had logged about 1.5 million miles.
In recent years, however, their unreliability became the bane of Washington commuters. Many were happy to see them go; Kaplan’s firm is betting many will be happy to see them return — as shops.
That’s where Mojo, 45, a former commercial fisherman from Sag Harbor, N.Y., comes in. His métier is kinetic sculpture — flying blue oil drums, rolling bowling balls and the like — that he fashioned in the spirit of Alexander Calder and Rube Goldberg, according to an interview he gave to a Hamptons newspaper.
An industrial hacksaw was pressed into use to cut up the rail car into seven segments. From there, Mojo had to figure out a way to cover the sharp, exposed edges. He and his Rusted Rebels crew then began welding, grinding pieces back together.
The thing that surprised him the most, he said, was how sturdy the Italian railcar’s construction was. The narrow partition where two windows met appeared to be made of extra thick metal and reinforced several times over with layers to make up for the relative structural weakness of the window glass.
Mojo was also surprised at how much of the railcar’s workings were jammed into its undercarriage. Electronic circuitry. Cables. Metal couplings.
“All this stuff was super tightly packed under there,” Mojo said. “You had very minimum room. So you had to kind of work your way into the next piece to the next piece to the next piece.”
It took two days to hack away all the unneeded pieces in the undercarriage. Other surprises were not as fun, Mojo said. He was removing a metal footstep that looked a lot lighter than it was when the thing landed on his hand.
“You remember the little one single [expletive] footstep?” Mojo asks. “I cut the [expletive] thing off and it was made of steel, not aluminum, so it was heavy. It hit the ground and just nailed me,” Mojo said. “Of all the things.”
It broke his finger.