Monday, March 25, 2013

Lost Mosaic & Lost Mosaicist

The Wilshire Grand Hotel at Wilshire and Figueroa is no more, and in its place we'll have a 73-story office tower, a new "tallest" building-blah-blah.

That's not news.

But when auctioning off the art and fixtures of the 60-year-old hotel, mosaics were found!

One 15-foot wide mosaic--and the efforts to identify the artist--is the subject of this story in Mosaic Art Now, written by Lillian Sizemore (who in this case has the title of Chief Investigator).

The found mosaic shows oil refineries, the Port of Los Angeles, and tall buildings. Lillian Sizemore is a noted mosaicist herself who has taught classes and lectured all over the world.

"The glass tiles were covered with layers of cigarette smoke and years of yellowed funk," Sizemore writes. Not only that, but the mosaic was not grouted. Instead, the artist just used glue to affix the pieces of tile to plywood--so while the artist, as an artist, was clearly talented and trained, he/she didn't know much about mosaic construction

The story's called "Black Gold: There's Oil in Them Thar Walls" because the mosaic was found behind a wall in a conference room that once housed the Los Angeles Petroleum Club, and is clearly focused on the oil industry.

Sizemore's article puts it all in context, with a bit of history about the oil business, the hotel, and mid-century mosaics.  Go read it!

Gregory Johnson bought the mosaic; figuring out how to get it out of the hotel and clean it up presented many puzzles. And who created it? Johnson eventually found a signature, but that just brought up more mysteries.

These pictures were taken by Gregory Johnson and used in Lillian Sizemore's piece; via

The article has many more photos,  including shots showing the state of the mosaic when it was uncovered, how it was put together, removed, etc--there's even a 9-minute video of 1985 panels and walls being removed to (hopefully) reveal more mosaics in the lobby. Did they find any? Did Geraldo find Al Capone's loot? (a running joke in the video)

A gentleman named Tom Barnes has also put a couple of photos of the mosaic up on Flicker. He apparently went to the Wilshire Grand liquidation sale and snapped pictures before the mosaic was sold.

And there were also huge abstract mosaics on the hotel lobby walls--Sizemore's article has a 1950s newspaper photo showing them in black-and-white.

In 1960, the Statler-Hilton was the one of the hotels housing delegates of the Democratic National Convention. Not the main venue, of course--that was the Biltmore and the Sports Arena. The Herald Examiner newspaper printed this graphic showing the location in July 1960, and the pictures comes from the Los Angeles Public Library's photo collection.

The Statler Hotel opened in 1952, was the Statler-Hilton by 1960, then the Omni, and Wilshire Grand.

BlogDowntown has a synopsis of its history, written in 2009, here. And if you want to know about the Statler Hotels in general--the major hotel chain of the early 1900s, check out Wikipedia.

Here's another photo I can't resist, dated October 28, 1957, also from the  Herald Examiner via the library, of a "Welcome Dodgers" party. Among the sampling of 1100 guests in this photo are Mayor Poulson and Branch Rickey.

Every time I see one of these old photo's, full of civic pride, I think, "Hey, where are all the women? And people of color?" Which is a measure of how we've changed, and that's all to the good.

I'm not sure, but I think a bit of the abstract mosaic may be visible on the left wall, which is the real reason for putting the photo up here.

Just a guess; who knows how many mosaics were in the place, when they were removed, or where they ended up? There is a law in place now, giving an artist first dibs on her/his work when a building owner decides to remove art, but that law wasn't in place in the 1970s and early 1980s.


Anonymous said...

hi vickey thanks for sharing this story with your history buff readers!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Vickey! i really enjoyed your additional background on the Statler's History. LillianS.

Vix said...

No, Thank You!
(we sound like Chip 'n' Dale)
for doing all the research, bringing your expertise to the puzzle, and writing it up for Mosaic Art Now--

Steve said...

Spotted this via this AM. My father was President of the Petroleum Club in the 1970s. Fine old white gentlemens (and not so gentle, I suspect) club where members of the oil business met for lunch, lots of drinks, and gin rummy.

Thanks for posting this.

Lillian said...

Your article got picked up by curbed LA today.