Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Los Angeles that Could Have Been

Fergitabout da things dat'r gone...what about da things dat never got built?

I came across two items on that theme this week. One is from Adam Arenson, who is writing the definitive book on the Art of Home Savings and Loan (not sure if that's the final title). On his blog, he posted about a nearly-forgotten project from 1954: the Monument to Democracy. That's a drawing at left, as proposed by Millard Sheets.

This monument was to sit in our port, as the Statue of Liberty sits outside New York City. The statue was to stand 480 feet tall, and the base was another 46 feet tall. The globe alone would have been 125 feet in diameter.

The champion of this project was County Supervisor John Anson Ford. Ironically, as Arenson points out, this project was being discussed just as Sheets was designing his first building for Howard Ahmanson--the precursor or trial run for the many banks he would then build.

And the second item?  This Forbes article by David Hochman about things in LA that never were--in fact, the piece is about a museum exhibit called "Never Built: Los Angeles."

The exhibit would include models and original plans that we can only now imagine. Among them:

  • LAX, with its central hub covered by a giant glass dome, 

  • A huge cylindrical skyscraper of a hotel rising right out of the ocean west of Santa Monica. The drawing at right was done by Carlos Diniz in 1968, based on the design by Tony Lumsden.

  • A parks plan commissioned in 1927 from Olmstead and Bartholomew--the former name refers to the sons of Frederick Law Olmstead who had their own design firm. The idea was to build Los Angeles around "parks, playgrounds, and beaches." (Here is Christopher Hawthorn's LAT article summarizing that episode--it's truly interesting. Hawthorn praised the plan as possessing "astonishing sophistication and farsightedness.")

Piling irony on top of irony, the exhibit "Never Built: Los Angeles" may never show. The curators, Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin, need money to build their models and exhibits, so "Never Built: Los Angeles" is now on Kickstarter, soliciting donations.

So we can not only not get it built, but we can't see what we ain't got.

Everyone who has looked into this brings up the same magical idea--our city could have been very different. That in turn would have made us different. So it becomes an exercise in 'what-if' history that leads us to wonder about missed opportunities and redemption.

The book at left, btw, is about that 1927 parks project. You can buy Eden by Design: The 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan for the Los Angeles Region from Amazon.

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