Gales’ (’72, urban and regional planning) thesis became a critical document in the federal funding package that laid the groundwork for what would become the Los Angeles Metro Rail, today a 101.5-mile urban transit system with a daily ridership of 170,100.
Gales was the founder and chairman of Jenkins/Gales & Martinez, Inc., one of the nation’s largest minority-owned architecture, engineering and construction management firms. He was routed back to LA Metro in the mid-1990s when his firm helped build its Metro Green and Blue lines and the Hollywood-Highland Station. Other significant projects under his leadership include the Hollywood Park Development, Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles Convention Center, and the LAX Landside Access Modernization Project.
In a 2019 interview with the College of Environmental Design, Gales said his senior paper, originally written for a transportation course, studied the effects of the dismantlement of the Pacific Electric Railway Red Car system. A copy was given to then-Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom Bradley when he visited Cal Poly Pomona for a speaking engagement.
The rest was history: In 1970 Bradley invited Gales to Washington, D.C., to present his paper before the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, the agency charged with providing federal funding for the nation’s mass transit projects and the predecessor of the Federal Transit Administration. Seven years later, Bradley, by then elected by Angelenos as their first Black mayor, invited Gales to work for the city.
Gales also constructed a legacy outside LA’s built environment. He advised U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush on transportation and infrastructure development, and California governors Gray Davis, Jerry Brown, and Arnold Schwarzenegger on mentorship and volunteer service. He wrote books about African art and architecture and infrastructure development in West and South Africa, and penned articles on multi-family housing development, transportation policy and design, and educational planning and design.
At Cal Poly Pomona, Gales was an alumni mentor to urban planning students and in 2014 was honored by the university with the Distinguished Alumni Award. During the pandemic he established the Earl Gales Jr. Environmental Design Scholarship to make higher education more accessible to urban planning and architecture students from underrepresented groups or socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.
The son of a carpenter and craftsman, Gales discovered his talent for design from early age. At Cal Poly Pomona he switched majors from architecture to urban and regional planning after taking an urban planning course. He completed his graduate studies in architecture and urban design at UCLA.
As a young man Gales worked as a draftsman and the occasional promotional photographer under Charles Luckman, the property developer and architect behind landmark buildings like the Kia Forum and Madison Square Garden. It was perhaps with Luckman’s guidance — coupled with Gales’ own lifelong interest in transportation and the social and economic factors that influence its planning — that Gales reconciled architecture, scale and the urban fabric.
“In urban planning and urban design, your scale is bigger, your palette is bigger,” Gales said in 2019.
Gales is survived by his wife Starla Gales and his children Earl Gales III, Ryan Gales, Starla Gales, Kaiya Gales and Enrique Gales. Memorial services will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 11 a.m. at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Culver City.
Those who wish to support the Earl Gales Environmental Design Scholarship are invited to contribute to the endowment fund.
RSVP to the memorial services at https://eegjr-memorial.eventbrite.com.