Monday, January 16, 2012

Recreations of Long Beach

This incredible mosaic adorned the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium, where it was installed in 1938. Today, it's on the Long Beach Plaza parking structure, which troubles many people. Is that a safe home for the WPA-funded work of art? An appropriate home?

Forty artists work on  this piece, titled "Recreations of Long Beach." It's 38 feet high and 22 ft wide--obviously, meant to be seen from a distance. The supervising artists were Albert Henry King, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, and Henry Nord. Their signatures are woven into the border. Nord was apparently the original designer, while King and MacDonald Wright supervised the creation.

Construction began in 1936 and went on for over a year. The tesserae tiles were laid out and cut in a big room in Los Angeles. In a unique twist, different patterns and textures were used for each design element. That was MacDonald-Wright's idea, and he used it in other mosaics--though none were as large as this artwork. After it was cut, each section was sent to Long Beach where another group of artists cemented the section to the wall.

The 2nd Municipal Auditorium was built in 1932 on 20 acres of landfill, just south of Ocean and Long Beach Blvd (which was called American Avenue then). It was torn down in 1975 to make way for the big convention and entertainment center--the Terrace Theater sits just south of its space now, I think.

Here's a shot of the mosaic in its current position near 3rd street, where it has been since 1982. If you want to see old postcards of what the Municipal Auditorium looked like inside and out, go to this site for some great photos and stories--including shots of Elvis, Judy Garland, and other stars who appeared at the Auditorium.

And here's a picture from the National Archives of the installation of the mosaic back in 1937.

The Municipal Auditorium jutted into the ocean, and a big breakwater was built around it, called the Rainbow Pier. It wasn't a pier, but it was shaped like an arch--hence the rainbow name. More landfill went on in the 1950s and 1960s, so a lot of where the Long Beach Convention Center and Shoreline Village etc. are located was once beach and water.

As for the mosaic, efforts have been made over the last ten years to find it a better home...but it's just so big. And everyone agrees that it should remain accessible to the public. It was the largest WPA artwork done in its day.

The WPA Art Project website posted this photo of the Municipal Auditorium under demolition, and it looks like the mosaic is still there.

I guess we're all lucky it survives to this day.

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