Monday, May 31, 2010

Biggest History Mosaic Ever!

An aesthetic dilemma: When discussing works of art, should "biggest ever" enter the conversation?

You decide. This mosaic, "The Birth of Liberty" sits at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, where Memorial Day services honoring our veterans are taking place.

Most of the scenes of America's history are mosaic reproductions of well-known paintings by artists such as John Trumbull (including The Declaration of Independence at right), E.G. Leutze, Percy Moran, and others (like the ubiquitous Unknown).

The mosaic is 162 feet long and 28 feet high. This is my first attempt to stitch photos into a panoramic shot, so you get some idea of just how big the mosaic is. Wikipedia says it contains ten million pieces of Venetian glass, and you know you can take that to the bank!

Of course, it's so big that you can't tell it's a mosaic. I blew up a tiny part of the Declaration of Independence to show the glasswork.

Near as I can tell, those are Richard Henry Lee's gams.

To your right as you stand facing "The Birth of Liberty" is another mosaic showing idealized scenes from Abraham Lincoln's life. Here's half of it, below. Love the greenery around it-seems very appropriate. The other half of the Lincoln mosaic is more a tribute to 19th century romanticism than to Lincoln, which is too bad. With all his accomplishments and the drama that surrounded Lincoln, I've often wondered why some artists felt the need to fictionalize the imagery.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hollywood Bowl Museum

The biggest thrill of a visit to the Hollywood Bowl Museum is the fact that you can go into the Hollywood Bowl parking lot and park where, during concerts, all the limos line up. Just drive in like you're important and park! Right there, in a spot that was once reserved for Toscanini, for all I know.

It's just so cool.

And you're right, it doesn't take much to thrill me.

Furthermore, because I am so important, I don't even have to pay, not to park, not for the museum. Well, nobody does. The museum is open and free till 4 pm Tuesday through Saturday.

Posters and programs of past seasons and all sorts of other memorabilia fill the bottom floor--film of the Beatles' concert in the 60s, etc. This poster was hanging in the bathroom--in 1927, art nouveau was still quite trendy. A program from the same season is shown above. That was the year of the 'teepee' style shell--it was almost immediately torn down and replaced. (Check out the Hollywood Bowl history page, which starts out with pictures of the bowl through the years--just click on the arrows.)

The second floor is full of changing exhibits. Right now, there are all sorts of hands-on try-it-yourself type gizmos that show the science behind sound. "Sound Scape," it's called. My favorite was a two-foot-long tube, filled with water that began to wave and splash as the volume was turned up, showing the water's reaction to sound waves.

Yes, I'm easily amused, but my 14-year-old companion, who is generally far more difficult to impress, had tons of fun as well.

Monday, May 24, 2010

First Bank Mosaics, Beverly Hills

These beautiful mosaics are on the facade of the First Bank at 9145 Wilshire Blvd--just down the street a block from the Chase Bank that was once the Beverly Hills Home Savings and Loan. (Here's a link to that Mosaic Monday post).

Ground was broken for this bank on February 19, 1959. It housed the new Ahmanson Bank and Trust Company branch, and the entire building, including these mosaics, was designed by Millard Sheets. Specs reported at that time were: 4,340 square feet and $350,000 to build--a figure that included the cost of the land.

The place opened December 10, 1959. Here's an ad for the new Ahmanson Bank, taken from the Los Angeles Times (as was most of the information in this post):

"Experts advised us that our dream was impossible. . . . .We believed there was a need for a bank catering to personal, substantial accounts." The italics are theirs.

(Gee, on Wilshire in Beverly Hills? Now, that was a leap!)

". . . Old-fashioned banking service has returned amid modern, comfortable, and pleasant surroundings." The ad finishes with an invitation to stop by: "Learn for yourself  how a strong independent bank can better serve your individual needs."

Does that sound like a 50-year-old ad, or one you saw in the paper yesterday?

In 1972 the bank was robbed by criminal, heroin addict, and author Edward H. Bunker. He was out on bail at the time, accused of drug possession, and he was caught quickly. While awaiting trial Bunker began directing a nationwide drug-trafficking ring that netted $15 million a year. Seems that since Bunker was representing himself in his upcoming trials, he had access to a pay telephone.

However, the line was tapped, and the jig was up. Conspiracy charges were added to bank robbery and the rest. Six weeks before his trial, Bunker's first novel was released: No Beast So Fierce--and by the time he was sentenced, he had a movie deal. Dustin Hoffman bought the rights, and the movie Straight Time was the result.

"I carry chaos with me the way some people carry typhoid," he told a reporter. Bunker has the distinction of being the youngest inmate at San Quentin (age 17). He played the night watchman in my favorite LA movie: Miracle Mile, 1988,and was one of the bankrobbers in Resevoir Dogs. All per Wikipedia.

Ah, the things we learn while piddling around!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Missed Mosaic Monday

Sorry, whether anyone noticed or not! But I did take a photo that day, intending to use it...I just got really busy.

This is it--this house. This qualifies as a mosaic, doesn't it? I love that the painters were so into creating the pale blue mosaic-style design on the rock facade that they just kept going, painting splotches on the fence. Did they have a lot of leftover paint? Were too many six-packs consumed as the afternoon wore on? We'll never know.

Perhaps it's just as well this doesn't appear on a Monday, but I declare it a Folk Art Mosaic.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Nondescript but Elegant Mosaic

Today's mosaic is a simple and unexpected pleasure--something I happened upon as I drove off Hawthorne Blvd close to its southern end in Palos Verdes. A side road leads down to a Salvation Army Training College for Officers and the Peninsula Racquet Club. On the side of a building between these two disparate facilities, someone decided to indulge in a bit of artistic revelry.

My guess is that this mosaic reflects a more meaningful mosaic wall on the grounds, because I stumbled across this pdf later. Apparently a tiled Wall of Honor commemmorates people by adding a cross made of red and gray tiles, engraved with their names. The motifs and colors look similar.

That's all I have time for today, but I'll catch up later.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Beverly Hills Mosaic

An LA Times story of March 4, 1956, announced the completion of the "two-story, $2,000,000 'home'" of Beverly Hills' Home Savings and Loan. A large picture topped the story, but if you've ever seen scanned Proquest photos, you'll know it isn't worth replicating--not too mention the fact that it's probably copyrighted. So my own humble pictures run here--taken with my new ultra-cheap-but-wonderful Kodak Easyshare camera.

The Times credits Millard Sheets with the entire design of the building and grounds, not just the mosaic. Sheets' goal was to create a 'dateless' structure--not something that would scream "1950s!" in years to come. I think he succeeded.

The exterior is Roman travertine, the molding Italian marble, and the mosaic Italian glass terrerae. Renzo Fenci designed the eight-foot-tall statues representing the timelessness and indestructibility of the family. Those are Italian too, cast in Florence. Wonder what the freight charges were on two tons of bronze back then? And given that vandals are stealing the bronze headstones of veterans from cemeteries, I wonder what's in place to protect the statues today?

Washington Mutual acquired the Home Savings & Loan branches in March 1998 for $10.1 billion. The Times in 1998 stated that many folks dismissed the Home Savings buildings as obsolete and inefficient. This is only twelve years ago--but it seems that no one considered the mosaics and other artwork worthy of official protection. If Washington Mutual had been more cavalier (fortunately, they weren't), they could've trashed it all. Here's a quote from that story: "But many of the distinctive Home Savings murals will probably be lost as the branches are recycled for other uses."

We're a little more protective of our patrimonie today, aren't we? Aren't we?