Monday, February 1, 2016

Mermaids Swimming through San Pedro

Where does the time go?

I have a beautiful new mosaic to share and it's already nearly 11 PM!

This mosaic, by Julie Bender, sits in downtown San Pedro, at 453 Seventh Street.

Rainbow Services, a community resource that helps victims of domestic violence, had a very nondescript facade, once. Now, a lovely mermaid with a baby mermaid arches over the door.

The artist is Julie Bender, who also created the mosaic at Peck Park in 2012. I blogged about that when it was going up, here, here, and here. That mosaic also features a green mermaid, but the artwork itself is much larger.

Like the Peck Park installation, where Girl Scout troops and other organizations helped make and set the tiles, it looks like Bender involved local groups in this mosaic as well. Lots of ripples and kelp leaves are inscribed with names of women, or groups like the Harbor Community Benefit Association.

You can make out some of the names in the closeup of the mermaid, below.

This is not the only new mosaic that Bender has created. While my blog was on hiatus, she was on a creative tear. I have the addresses of two other places graced by her mosaics, both within a few blocks of this one. One even features another mermaid.

I know I'm being South Bay-centric, but who could blame me? If you know of another artist creating mosaics today, please let me know! If that someone is beautifying an entire town and getting the whole community involved to boot, I hope they're being recognized!

One last picture, from the front. Between the palm tree and the street signs, there is no way to get a clear picture of the entire mosaic.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Another St. Lawrence Martyr Mosaic in Redondo Beach

Happy Mosaic Monday!

I've blogged about two mosaics at St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach before, most recently in 2010.

2010? That was ages ago.

Anyway, this post shows a photo of the huge mosaics on the front of the church that faces Prospect Blvd.

This big (but not quite huge) mosaic of St. Joseph faces a driveway into the school grounds, and you have to glance right while driving north on Prospect to see it.

This mosaic sits on school property, which was once nine acres of sand dunes--until it was acquired by the brand new parish in 1955 (there were no church or school buildings at that point; Mass was being celebrated at a Knights of Columbus Hall on Avenue I). The school opened in September of 1956, with an average of sixty children per classroom.

The permanent church was dedicated eight and a half years later in 1965, presumably with the second huge mosaic.

As you might guess from the collection of facts in the previous two paragraphs, the parish of St. Lawrence Martyr has a history page up now, which didn't exist when I wrote my first, sparse blog post in 2009 which featured a photo of the mosaic of its patron saint.

The artist for that 1957 mosaic, turns out, was Hugo Ballin, and I'm glad to correct that record. Ballin was known as a muralist. I'm going to copy what part of what I wrote about him 15 months ago in yet another post:

Hugo Ballin's story is interesting: he started working for Samuel Goldwyn when Goldwyn Pictures was based in New Jersey. A trained artist, he became an art director and production designer for Goldwyn. After following him out west, Ballin started to write and direct silent films and had his own production company.  Early, silent versions of Jane Eyre and Vanity Fair were among his films.

He returned to art in the late twenties, and you can see his work at:

He even designed the commemorative medallions for the 1932 Olympics, and he wrote a few novels too--at least one was quite controversial. When he died in 1956, he was said to be working on a 27-foot high panel for a Catholic Church in Redondo Beach. That may have been St. Lawrence Martyr, which was built in 1956. Ballin's work was only 1/3 done, though, so it was probably never installed.

Well, that last line proved to be dead wrong, didn't it?

SLM's history page doesn't tell me about either the new church mosaic or this third mosaic. I did walk up and look for a signature, with no luck. The detail of the mosaic is really lovely, though, so here is a photo showing the lower right corner, with the carpenter's tools and shadows.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Reading About LA

Here are some wonderful things to read, for when you have some free time:

  • Is someone gunning down peafowl? In semi-rural, moneyed Palos Verdes? Well, they were. That's the topic of a well-researched article in Los Angeles Magazine by Mike Kessler. I love that he interviewed Cat Spydell, whom I've met a few times. I even shared a booth with her and the mammoth sweetie-dog Drinian, just before she found and bonded with the baby peacock called Radagast. (All three are pictured at right.) Kessler also interviewed a few of the people who hate peafowl, so it's a pretty well-balanced report.

  • For a juicy report on the Playboy Mansion and its neighborhood, its history, the dimensions, a bunch of links, and a half-dozen pictures of the fabled estate, go to CurbedLA. Or check out this fact-heavy piece in the Wall Street Journal.

  • Want something to do, rather than something to read? The Night on Broadway is FREE! Takes place January 30 and celebrates the 10-year effort to "Bring Back Broadway", which is also the name of the host organization. Look over the Event guide that shows the block-by-block plans. Ferris wheels, art walks, vendors, a Festival Stage, dancers and vaudeville-like acts inside the theatres--maybe some films as well.

  • How did the Army Corps of Engineers get involved with the LA River? It all goes back to 1938 and some terrible flooding here. Actually, it goes back even further. KCET presents Carren Jao's excellent history of the Corps' expanding growth and oversight. That means, in the 21st century, that even something like allowing kayakers to use the River must gain approval from the Corps. The picture below shows the Army Corps of Engineers at work, building the bridge at Avenue 43 over the Arroyo Seco, later in 1938.

  • Monday, January 11, 2016

    LeTete Mosaics in Redondo Beach

    It is indeed a small world.

    I toddled into Le Tete in Redondo Beach, a clothing, jewelry, and accessory store in the Riviera Village that carries a few books by local authors. A friend had advised me of this last fact, so I hoped that Stella, the owner, would display The Boomer Book of Christmas Memoriesin the store. And she did!

    But that's another story. This post is about mosaics.

    The small world part comes when I entered. The store Le Tete is at 1911 S. Catalina, at the south end of that street, just blocks from the beach. It's a taller building than most on the street, with a large, fanciful, multi-color tree painted on the facade. On the side of the upper part of the building, you can still see the sign "Harmony Works"--that's the store that used to be there.

    I walked over a mosaic in the doorway. Ah-ha! I had just revived my blog and was looking for new mosaics to photograph. However, this was just before Christmas and the store was busy.

    Last week, when I returned with my camera to ask about the mosaic, Stella and I chatted. She pulled out a mosaic that she keeps in the jewelry display case and allowed me to take this picture of it and of her.

    Stella showed me the other mosaics she had on the walls, and even in the back patio. All of them were made by her husband, artist and mosaicist Stefan LeTete.

    When Stella showed me the small mosaics on the walls, and the one in the patio, she asked me if I knew about the Home Savings & Loan mosaics--she could not think of the name of the artist. When I said, "Millard Sheets," another customer jumped in. Millard Sheets has fans everywhere! We talked about his oil paintings, and the art gallery at the LA County Fair, which is now called the Millard Sheets Art Center. That's where an exhibition of Sheets' work was on display a few years ago, put together by his son, artist Tony Sheets.

    And as it turns out, Stella's husband Stefan LeTete drove out to Claremont decades ago to buy all the leftover tiles he could from the Millard Sheets Studios when that company closed down. Some of those tile pieces that he got from the Claremont studio so long ago--a studio that is today an optician's office--are in these mosaics that Stephan made for his wife's shop.

    As for that Pique-Assiette mosaic in the doorway: A friend installed that about a year ago, but I got so distracted that I never learned more about it.

    Monday, January 4, 2016

    Did Home Savings & Loan have Temporary Mosaics for Banks?

    The answer is yes, and here are two of them.

    Professor Adam Arenson blogged about these in 2012, and for some reason I missed that post--even though he was kind enough to include link to this blog. I'm just going to highlight a few major points here, and you can go to his post to get all the details (and more pictures).

    • These mosaics are signed MSD, standing for Millard Sheets Designs, and were probably first installed in Los Angeles in 1974.

    • These mosaics were framed, and were later moved to different locations, perhaps Westminster, Santa Cruz, and Riverside. They ornamented temporary buildings while the permanent Home Savings & Loan branch was being built, and while its permanent, unique artwork was being created and installed.

    • Currently, they are installed in Irwindale, at the San Gabriel Valley Corporate Campus on Rivergrade Road. This site was the coporate headquarters of Home Savings and Loan from 1985 to 1988, and of Washington Mutual after that.

    • I blogged about another piece of at this campus, a mosaic fountain by Joyce Kozloff.


    Saturday, January 2, 2016

    "Private Space Masquerading as a Public Space"

    That's how David L. Ulin describes Los Angeles's streets in 9-1/2 minute interview on KPCC. He said, since we stopped using the streets as public space after WW2--using them instead as private spaces as we drove, enclosed in our cars, from one public space to another--our streets are "now a private space masquerading as a public space."

    That's an intriguing concept to me. I got exposed to the idea of "public space"--a very strange idea to me at first--about 15 years ago when I met graduate students who were veering away from history to study Public Spaces in History: how designing a city or parks or streets actually shaped civic growth and culture, separating some groups from others or inviting them in. And of course, how those spaces changed over time, and what that meant about who was in control of the space.

    If that subject intrigues you, there's a TED talk on it, given by Amanda Burden: "How public spaces make cities work."

    Ulin also offers an essay called "Writing the City," which is basically a bunch of brief discussions on books about walking through cities, like Walker in the City, by Alfred Kazin. Which lead up to his contribution to the genre.

    So I've made this my featured book. At $15 for the hardcover, it's quite a bargain, and since the book just came out in October it has few Amazon reviews.

    And now I must go put in a request for the book from our library. Then I will review it.

    Have I mentioned how important Amazon reviews are to authors? More reviews means more visibility. Please, please support authors you like by writing reviews, however brief, for their books!

    Monday, December 28, 2015

    Back to LAX for Mosaic Monday

    A couple of years ago, I blogged about the mid-century mosaic walls at the terminals at LAX. Five long mosaics were installed in 1961. One thing I got right was that the mosaics have a geographic theme:

    The blue as you start down the tunnel represent the sea, and the gold and brown tones are our nation's heartland. Apparently there is one vertical line of red right in the middle (I don't remember that), then at the other end, blue again: Sea to shining sea.

    Compare that to this description by the artist: "I started with the blue on one side, then the earth colors, then, in the middle, I had one red element, then the colors reverse. My idea was that you'd see the same colors going from the ocean to the middle of the country, over the prairie, then back to the ocean"

    What I got wrong, it seems, was attributing the mosaics to Charles Kratka. He was indeed the head of Interior Design when the airport was being modernized, but the mosaics were designed and installed by artist Janet Bennett, currently of New York. At the time she worked for Pereira and Luckman, who designed most of the airport we know now.

    There's a very informative and engaging article about Janet Bennett and the LAX walls in Modwall's Liveyourcolors blog. The quoted description above came from there.

    Bennett is trying to set the record straight. She first saw Kratka given credit for her work when she read his obituary. As she wrote to me: "I gritted my teeth so hard that I cracked a tooth when I read the obit eight years after it was written." 

    Perhaps, Bennett speculated, his daughter was responsible for the claim that appeared in Kratka's obituary--which is where I found it. Bennett says that two other architects had taken credit for the mosaics as well--but not in print.

    The story has spread--Google LAX mosaics or tunnels, and you'll find many pictures labeled with Kratka's name.

    In blogs and articles, too, I'm not the only one who got it wrong. Alison Martino's article on the mosaics in Los Angeles Magazine last year also attributes Kratka as the artist. Martino focused more on the movie and TV show use of the mosaics, especially Mad Men, so maybe I'll have to watch that show. Eventually.

    As Bennett states in the Liveyourcolors piece, she wouldn't have minded if the architectural firm had gotten credit--but not another artist. Now, so much time has passed that proving her word is difficult.

    I wonder if any architectural history students could take this up as a thesis project, documenting the interior design of the airport. The official records are probably still around, right?

    Monday, December 21, 2015

    Joseph Young & His Work: Triforium and Topographic Map of Water Sources

    The Triforium's 40th birthday was December 11. Belated best wishes.

    Originally installed in 1975, the work is by the late Joseph Young--I've blogged about his mosaic work before, but the Triforium is unique. Not a mosaic but a six story-high sculpture sitting at Temple and Main, fitted out with a carillon of glass bells. Nearly 1500 glass prisms--actually, hand-blown bits of glass from Murano, Venice--give a nod to mosaics (at least in my mind). In 2006 the Trirforium was cleaned up and the burned-out light bulbs replaced--but no effort to update it was made.

    Now, both LACurbed and the LADowntownnews blog (also the source of this photo) report on fundraising efforts to refurbish the Triforium so that it functions even beyond the hopes of its creator.

    A website called TheTriforiumProject that explains the push to update a piece of art that was, enthusiasts say, far ahead of its time.

    Improvements would include replacing the light bulbs (largely burned out again) with long-lasting LEDs and creating a new computer to synchronize the music and lights. Not hard to imagine that the original 1975 software failed to do that consistently. But what sort of computer did you work on in 1975? (ummm, none. I'm not even sure that whatever was installed in the Triforium in 1975 can be called a computer.)

    You can see many pictures and links to press coverage of the December 11th birthday party on the Joseph Young Fan page on Facebook.

    The picture at left, clearly not the Triforium, is nearby at the County Hall of Records on Temple Street. It's also public art by Joseph Young; it it is a mosaic, and I'll switch gears and talk about it soon--promise.

    The best pictures I've found of the Triforium are with an article from the California Historical Society--it even has an early rendering showing lasers shooting out of the tops of the pillars! That proposed feature was cut early on--not just because of soaring costs, but I suspect also due to technology constraints.

    That well-researched article by Jessica Hough includes a biography of Joseph Young, color photos of the Triforium under construction, and Young's own words about the project.

    Young envisioned his "kinetic color-music sculpture" as interacting with the people that passed by. Today, plans might include an app. Seriously. proposes an app that would allow "people to send "polyphonoptic" compositions for the Triforium to play." That sounds perfectly reasonable to me, but five years ago I would have laughed at the idea.

    AND . . . because it is, after all, Mosaic Monday, I couldn't help but notice that Ms. Hough's article for the California Historical Society also includes this beautiful photo of one of Joseph Young's other works, the one I referenced a few paragraphs ago: the 1962 mosaic fountain titled "Topographic Map of Water Sources in County of Los Angeles" which is located at the Hall of Records on Temple Street. Beautiful, yes, because it shows that this work of art also needs some TLC.

    According to Jessica Hough (who also took or owns this picture), "Young worked with architect Richard Neutra on the design that includes a topographic map of the city."

    This photo and the pictures below, showing the mosaic in better and non-drought years, come from the LA County Arts Page. There I learned that:

    Artist Joseph Young worked closely with the building’s architects, including Richard Neutra, to achieve a design for the wall. Young first designed the mural to portray only geological features and later added water sources to tie the mural together with the reflecting pool Neutra placed at the wall’s base. The mosaic’s map imagery was inspired by the records and maps kept within the Hall of Records.

    The mosaic was cleaned and refurbished in 2007-8 by Donna Williams, and that when she was done, "for the first time in 20 years, water flowed through the mural."\

    Saturday, December 12, 2015

    For your viewing and listening enjoyment:

    On December 4, 2015, UCLA presented a conversation about the Olympics: Why History Matters: L.A. 2024 and the Lessons of Olympics Past with panelists Zev Yaroslavsky, Barry Sanders, David Phillips, Peter Chesney and Caitlin Parker.

    You can watch all of it here.

    Professor/Moderator Steven Aron jokes that "history is too important to be left to to historians," meaning academics. If you love history enough to listen to how the talk came to be and why certain panelists were chosen, you're in luck: it's all here. And Professor Aron is an engaging speaker. Or you can jump into the discussion of Greece and how the ancients conducted their games, starting at minute 12, and enjoy from there.

    Alternately, if you want to hear Barry Sander's comments about the status of Los Angeles' bid for a future Olympics, and Supervisor Yaroslavsky's warnings about hosting costs, that starts about 27 minutes in.

    I learned a lot of trivia, which I love. Did you know Tom Bradley, our former mayor, hopped fences to sneak into some of the events in the 1932 Games? Or that 25,000 palm trees were planted here in anticipation of the 1932 Olympics? And that palms live, on average, about 90 years so they're all about to die? Hah!

    The entire talk is about one hour and twenty minutes long.

    It that is too much or too serious for your Sunday afternoon, then here is a 1946 police training film on how good traffic cops should behave. This film is quite officious and smug but in a most campy way. Officer Tommy, at 9th and Hill, does everything wrong. Oh, Officer Tommy! You silly man! But the fun is not just seeing our traffic almost 70 years ago and spotting landmarks like the Orpheum Theatre and the Eastern Building--or Eastern Columbia Building (about 3 1/2 minutes in). What I found so fascinating is how much things have changed. Would any traffic cop today wave cars into crosswalks and hold pedestrians just inches out of harm's way?

    This film appeared on the LAist, and their comments are well worth reading

    Monday, December 7, 2015

    Visions of Light

    In June of 1911, the Los Angeles Times reported a mystical event taking place at a homestead near Whittier. "Mexicans as well as their more patrician relatives of mission ancestry" (whatever that means!) were flocking to see the miracle: a picture owned by Senora Manuela Plaz radiating light in the darkness. Hundreds of people came to experience the vision, in which rays of light shone from the picture while the woman who owned it knelt on the floor to pray.

    The picture--a "battered and broken portrait," according to the Times, was of Our Lady of Guadalupe. That's a phrase familiar to most Catholics. Los Angeles has more than one church named for this vision. Besides a couple in the city proper, there are also Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic churches in Irwindale, El Monte, and Hermosa Beach.  She's popular and revered, and her feast day is December 12--which is why I was scrolling for her in our old newspapers.

    Nearly 500 years ago, the Mother of God appeared to a humble man of Indian descent near Mexico City. She left her portrait on his plain cloak, and it is this image--replicated a zillion times--which Senora Plaz, late of Durango, Mexico, had in her home near Whittier.

    The newspaper also placed the vision near Los Nietos, so I'm guessing that means it was in West Whittier. I wonder if anyone today remembers the incident or heard about it? Perhaps there's a note at the historical society? Nothing more is mentioned in the Times, and internet searches of Manuela Plaz got no results. But--and again, I'm guessing, something drove hundreds of people to Plaz's home over a century ago. Even if the TImes only covered it once, it may have been an recurring phenomenon, building up a bitof anticipation as the word spread.

    And then it was forgotten. Oh, well.