Monday, June 28, 2010

Mosaics at Powell Library

If mosaic is defined as pictures or designs made by setting small colored pieces of stone, glass, or tile onto a surface, then these pillars at the Powell Library of UCLA certainly qualify as mosaics. In fact, there are so many of these ornamentally tiled features--columns, alcoves, niches, steps--in the library, it's downright distracting. Who could study?

Powell Library is one of the original two buildings erected at the Westwood Campus in 1929 (the other being Royce Hall). Architects George W. Kelham and David Allison drew on Italian churches for their inspriation in designing the library. This UCLA document claims that both Powell and Royce follow the Lombardian type of Italian Romanesque architecture, with bits of Byzantium thrown into the mix. Moorish elements were added to reflect California's Spanish culture (to me, that seems an odd bow to Spanish culture--including Moorish elements).

This second picture is from UCLA's website. Really shows off the overall effect, but my picture (the first) gives more of the details. The pillars are octagonal, and apparently tiny heads of bruins top them. In fact, reading the document makes me realize that I missed the boat entirely when I dashed into the library to take a picture. There is a picture mosaic there, on the first floor landing, that I didn't even see, let alone photograph.

Oh, well. Lots of Mondays in the coming years...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Los Angeles, nee Yaangna

I learned a bit about early Angelenos this past Thursday...maybe I should call them Yaangalenos. Go ahead, groan.

I did know that native Americans in this area were named the Tongva, and that their central Los Angeles village was called Yaanga. After the Spanish came around and founded the missions--San Gabriel Mission in this case--most references to the locals took the name of the nearest mission: Gabrielenos, Luisenos, etc.

A search of Tongva at the Los Angeles Library got me this 1975 picture, with the notes: "Men walk down a path next to a Native American archaeological site roped off for excavation. Photo caption reads: "In dry Van Norman reservoir, archeologists examine excavations for evidence of 5,000 year-old Tongva Indians". Photo dated: Mar. 3, 1975. "

What's new in all this is that 10 or 15 years ago, you couldn't find out anything about Indian history in Southern California. Today, more and more information is available to anyone who bothers to look for it. I remember doing searches on Tongva and Yangna in the late 90s. Nothing. Try it today, and you get the Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel and the Gabrielino Tribal Council--both of which have information on the tribe's history and current projects, sites on language, culture, plants, you name it. The locations of Tongva villages have been mapped out--on the edge of CSULB, at University HS in West LA, one off the 110 Freeway at Anaheim, just south of Harbor College, Catalina Island and Palos Verdes east to San Bernadino County. Out of 31 named villages, not all have been located but the oldest found so far dates back 8000 years--near Azusa.

A copy of a map drawn in 2008 is available at the non-profit site Indigenous Ways, for a $25 donation. You might find one cheaper somewhere but the money goes to a good cause--youth programs and language preservation.

I thank the Lomita Railroad Museum and their speaker, Professor Emily Rader of El Camino College for sharing this information, and for letting me know that the top source of California History Books--especially on topics like this--is Heyday Books in Northern California/

Monday, June 21, 2010

Twenty-first Century Mosaic

Culver City is full of public art! This particular mosaic sculpture adorns the entrance to a dental office at 12202 W. Washington Blvd.

Right across the street is more metal sculpture of a completely different type on a vacant building (titled "Three Sheets to the Wind" by Andrea Cohen Gehring), and down the street are murals of every type.

Gary Soszynski, who lives in the Santa Monica Mountains (according to, created and installed this piece in 2000. The title is "Reach for the Sun" and the reach is 24 feet tall.

RawStyle offers  prints of Soszynski's whimsical work at very reasonable prices (I consider $75 reasonable!) Riffs on Vermeer, trompe l'oiel, and giraffes...lots of giraffes.  The artist calls them "Cartoonees."

Found only one reference to Soszynski in the Times: in the late 1980s, he designed the buildings for Tarzana Self Storage on Burbank Blvd.--which is now Public Storage. Some of his artwork still ornaments the facade, though. The artist called "American Indian Deco." That article says Soszynski's murals and paintings hang at ABC Entertainment Center, Columbia Pictures and the Mulholland Tennis Club--but that was in 1988.

Soszynsky's own website puts him on the Venice Boardwalk at times, selling his wares.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Headlines from 1950

What was going on exactly sixty years ago?

According to the Los Angeles Times, Judy Garland slashed her own throat with a broken glass on June 19, 1950. Yikes! She was living with husband Vincent Minelli in a pink alabaster mansion at 10000 Sunset (Yup, the Times gave the address on the front page. Actually, they gave two--Minelli's and "the singer's home" at 8850 Evansview Drive. Just in case fans wanted to drop by).

According to Wiki (and they're never wrong!) Garland had been fired from a Fred Astaire movie, Royal Wedding, only two days previous. She would divorce Minelli in 1951, triumph in a Broadway show and win a Tony, go on to make A Star is Born, obviously getting over the loss of Royal Wedding.

As for the picture at right--well, a Shriners' Convention opened at the Coliseum on June 20th, 1950. This picture shows Ronald Reagan--one of many Hollywood Stars to join in the Shriners' 5-hour long Electric Parade a couple days later. 70,000 Shriners took over the Biltmore, the Ambassador, and the Coliseum and held three separate parades. Good times.

Did you know they (the Shriners) used to refer to themselves as Moslems of the Ancient Arabic Order? Maybe they still do; I don't know. Here's their national website.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Memories of Mosaics

This week, I took pictures of mosaics in Nativity Catholic Church in Torrance. Why? It's a smallish, old-fashioned looking church, not famous for anything. In fact, I don't even have the name of the artist who created the mosaics.

But this is the parish church I grew up in, and I remember the excitement when the first mosaic was installed back in the 1960s--on a wall that has since been punched out! For years, there were fundraising drives to pay for more mosaics, and weekly announcements about the status of the mosaic savings account.

Since I was visiting the area this past Sunday, I stopped by Nativity. I wanted to see how the mosaics had held up...and, well, they haven't. At least not in Torrance. The mosaics I remember were donated to a poorer parish many years ago.

I learned that when a new pastor comes in, he often redoes the church--if he wants to and if it needs it.

The current pastor of Nativity arrived ten years ago to a church that was stark white. Perhaps his predecessor had a modernist bent--or just disliked ornamentation. I vaguely remember the white on another visit, and it was striking. Funny that church styles can change, much like home decorating trends do. In fact...could there be a TV show here? Design on a Dime becomes Design on a Tithe? or Truly Divine Design?

These mosaics have been added over the last several years--the "loaves and fishes" is a sample of mosaics that line wide archways that visitors now walk through. The big mosaic above is to the left of the altar, overlooking a space I remember as the 'the crying room'--a glassed-in set of 4 or 5 rows of pews where mommies and babies sat during services. Now--glass gone--it houses a separate little altar (there's probably a more technically correct term) where the Eucharist is kept.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Whee! Play Day!

Gee, no dishes, no childcare...what a treat!

On June 13, 1940, the third annual Woman's Play Day was held. Women put on shorts (rather cutting-edge, I gather) and headed out to Griffith Park for a picnic and recreational activities. Never heard of this before.

Play Day was quite a big deal. The Directors of 25 different playgrounds--who had rehearsed the women in advance of this event--took turns leading songs, exercises, square dances, rube dances, and acted out hunting scenes to tune of "Way Down Yonder in the PawPaw Patch."

Grown women. Did I mention that?

After a picnic lunch, "competitive stunts in costume were presented by the various playground groups." And there the article ends.

In November that year, another Housewives Play Day was announced--this one for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. By 1941, 800 women participated in the June Play Day--and the celebrations culminated in a conga line! However, the reporters at the Times resorted to the same ol' introduction to their story: Dad had to cook dinner today as Mommy played at the park..."

Looks like the frolick either died out or was deemed not newsworthy after that, though. Wartime activities no doubt took precedence over Housewives Play Day.

Monday, June 7, 2010

And a Humble Mosaic

Mosaics like this ornament a modest strip mall along Western Avenue in San Pedro (well, technically, Rancho Palos Verdes), just south of Capital. There's a barber shop in there that's been around since the 1950s--I know that, because one of the barbers retired recently after cutting hair there since 1958.

Every few storefronts in this Western Plaza is a mosaic like this one. Totally 50s...maybe the store next to it once sold hula-hoops. Just a bit of public art that once looked trendy and cool to folks who stopped by.

Amazing how fashions change. Ten years ago, I would have voted to get rid of these panels. I thought the art of the 1950s would never, ever be in vogue again! Now I see it everywhere--on book covers, home accessories, web pages. Cartoon avatars with pony tails and kidney-shaped coffee tables. Life is strange.

Mural Monday? and Hidden High School Treasures

Just this once?

After all, these are Millard Sheets Murals.

Don't have a picture, because there's nothing to photograph--yet. But as the L.A. Then and Now column revealed yesterday (June 6,2010), Millard Sheets once painted murals for a South Pasadena junior high school (now a middle school). Sheets--a 25-year-old painter who was already becoming well-known--came to the school as a speaker in 1932. The students so impressed him that he offered to paint three fresco-style murals for them in the auditorium. The whole story is in the Los Angeles Times article.

The murals were dedicated two years later, but in the 1940s a maintenance worker messed up a waterproofing formula that effectively whitewashed one mural. Then in the 1960s, the other two murals were plastered over--"supposedly because someone signed the wrong work order."

Today, a local art history professor is leading an effort to have the murals restored--she thinks it can be done. The murals covered three Los Angeles scenes: The Harbor, The City, and The Farm. Oh, would I love to see The Harbor mural!

This reminds me of another story, back in 1999 or 2000, I think. A high school in Gardena stumbled upon a treasure trove of art, some by well-known California painters. Turns out that in the 1920s and 1930s, the graduating class of the high school always bought a painting as a gift for the school. They would raise funds, research artists, and select a work of art. The tradition died out after WWII, and at some point--during one of countless hallway repaintings, all those old pictures were taken down, put into a storage room, and never hung up again. Everyone forgot they were there.

One day, someone unlocked an old door and stumbled onto the collection. Surprise! Not all the paintings were by known artists, but a few were--enough to make the story remarkable.

Wonder how many other surprises are in basements and broom closets--or behind plastered walls--in old schools?