Monday, August 30, 2010

Revisiting Santa Monica Mosaics

For this Mosaic Monday, I'm going to revisit the former Homes Savings and Loan in Santa Monica.

For the Westways article (link at right under "My Own Los Angeles History Stories" and I promise this will be the last time I bring it up), I was asked to write about five sites, but only four ended up in the magazine. The Santa Monica site was cut, so here's what I wrote:

Not all Home Savings and Loan buildings survived, and not all that did are banks. Washington Mutual absorbed Home Savings and Loan in 1998 and quickly announced plans to close eighty California branches and move all artwork not physically attached to the buildings into other branches. Three of the announced closures involved buildings with mosaics that could not be removed. All three buildings still stand--in Riverside, Chula Vista, and in Santa MOnica at Wilshire and 26th Street.

FOr over a decade the tenant in Santa Monica has been Cellular Fantasy. Architects Michel Saee and Brant GOrdon renovated the building in 2001 and were prevented by a local board from installing a giganic opague buillboard over the facade. Critics praised Saee's dramatic interior chanages: futuristic workstations, perforated steel partitions and screens that seemed to billow and float in the air. A white scrim muted the stained glass window designed by Susan Hertel, Sheets' employee and long-time artistic collaborator.

Cellular Fantasy is leaving the building this year, and a New Balance shoe store will move in from its current locale just a few blocks away. The mosaics of folks enjoying themselves at the beach will remain. WHile most art is added to buildings later, Tony Sheets observed, his father "made the art an integral part of the whole thing."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Iowa Picnics - Long Beach and elsewhere

Old folks--truly old folks--remember the ethnic celebrations in Long Beach, the most famous being the Iowa picnics. Yup, Iowans, alone and isolated on the westernmost fringes of civilization, strangers in a strange land, used to gather to celebrate their heritage. They still do, in fact. Back then, the picnics were usually in Bixby Park; today--well, twelve days ago--the venue for the 110th Annual Iowa State Picnic was the Long Beach Lawn Bowling Club.

But these weren't just Long Beach events. The first Iowa picnic was in 1900 in Pasadena. That first picnic took placein January, perhaps to drum home the point that in California, you could picnic in January. This undated picture, from the Los Angeles Public Library collection, shows a gathering in Highland Park. My guess is that it's the early to mid 1920s. And I don't think it's summertime.

However, Long Beach is the place most associated with the Iowa picnics. There were so many Iowans (and other midwesterners) in Long Beach that the town was dubbed "Iowa by the Sea."  By 1908, the biggest picnics were located in Long Beach, often at Bixby Park. In 1928, future president Herbert Hoover (a native of Iowa) spoke at the picnic. An article in the Los Angeles Times in the 1940s estamated the picnic crowd at 100,000. To facilitate meetings between old friends, tables were set up with the names of Iowan counties. The picture to the right was taken August 11, 1951. In spite of the heat, folks dressed to the nines. (The photo comes from USC's Digital Archives; I think it was first published in the Examiner. And Governor Earl Warren--soon to be a Supreme Court Chief Justice-- is right in the middle, along with the governor of Iowa. These picnics were important.)

"The Iowa Picnics: The Shift of Midwestern Ethnicity in 20th-Century Los Angeles"...doesn't that sound like a perfect thesis title?

Iowa picnics, which may have started out as just social get-togethers, grew and grew over the generations, becoming so big that in fifty years, governors were attending. As they were growing, the US was changing, through wars, racial mixing, the end of segregation, and the civil rights struggle. Yes, I think there's tons of material for a PhD thesis there; wouldn't be a bit surprised to hear of one.

What sent me off in search of Iowa State Picnic photos? My own humble shot, taken at the 7th Annual Long Beach Tiki Festival on August 21st. The Tiki Festival is a celebration of South Pacific culture--shaved ice, ukulele music, and kitchy art. Great fun on the beach. These gentlemen in ti-leaf sun visors, were carving tiki figures. I originally saw this as a version of the Iowa picnic.

A 2006 article in the Long Beach Business Journal  pointed out that between 1973 and 1989, the big influx of immgrants were from either Mexico and Central America, or the Pacific Islands like Samoa.  In 2000, 13.1% of Long Beach residents were of Asian or Paciific Islaner descent.

I carry the perceptions of my own age cohort--the boomers--and have always thought of Long Beach as a town full of Filipinos, Cambodians, and South Pacific Islanders. And Iowans, as I now know.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mosaic Monday, Special Edition

Cue deep-voiced announcer:

And now, a very special Mosaic Monday....

The September issue of Westways Magazine is out and it features an article and photo spread titled "Saving the Art of Home Savings" by none-other-than moi. Here's a link. You might be asked for a zip code, but the page should come right up.

Adam Arenson, who blogs about Home Savings and Loans, had given me a great quote. Unfortunately, the quote and a bit more info were cut from the final description of the Beverly Hills Home S&L. So I'll  print that here, along with my own pictures of the bank:

“California history as Sheets envisioned it, written not in textbooks or inside museums but in iconic public art, on bank buildings,” says Adam Arenson, professor of History at the University of Texas, El Paso. “We need to act now to prevent this artwork from falling victim to the havoc that time and corporate reorganizations has caused.”

Indeed. The Beverly Hills Chase Bank is safe, but accidents happen. When Chase took over Washington Mutual in 2008, they did not know that an artistic legacy was included in the deal. Quickly enough, they found out. A Chase Bank in San Francisco painted over a Sheets mural, igniting a firestorm among preservationists. Thanks to a combination of public outcry, the California Art Preservation Act, and Chase’s growing appreciation for their inheritance, that mistake won’t happen again.

You'll have to go online to get the rest of the information, which is absolutely fascinating. Trust me.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Western Museum of Flight

A timely topic: Airplane and flight museums Why? Because the cover story on the September Westways Magazine is "Flying High: America's Aviation Museums pay tribute to the miracle of flight."

How do I know that? I'll tell you when everyone gets their copy of Westways in the mail. For now...

The Western Museum of Flight at Zamperini Field in Torrance is (sadly) not listed in Westways. Even though they have a prototype of the YF-17 Cobra parked outside.

(The article selected museums on the Midway in San Diego, Planes of Fame in Chino, and sites outside of California as its top picks)

The Western Museum of Flight in Torrance is about to expand, I'm told, and will soon begin construction on a larger building at the east end of Zamperini Field, so that more of their collection can be displayed. The current space allows only about one-fourth to be shown.

Here's one of my favorites: a replica of the Montgomery Gull Glider that flew in August 1883...1883!...near San Diego. This replica was actually flown in 1973.

The Western Museum of Flight is open on Wednesday through each weekend, till 3:00 pm. Nice diversion for bored boys on summer vacation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mosaic in East Los Angeles Library

Titled "Our Legacy: Forever Presente" by Jose Antonio Aquirre, this tops the library on 3rd Street in East Los Angeles. Supervisor Gloria Molina got the funding for this new building, which opened in 2004. THis is from the library's own website:

Community residents requested that the new library reflect Mayan design and themes. Since many Mayan structures in southern Mexico and Central America were astronomical observatories, the designers incorporated references to the sun and the moon, both themes in Mayan art, in the pavement at the entrances and in the lobby.

The interior foyer features artist Jose Antonio's monumental mosaic mural cycle "OUR LEGACY: Forever Presente..." which is a visual tribute to East Los Angeles' proud cultural heritage and socio-political struggle.

The sculpted limestone column is part of the artwork as well, but the mosaic--which covers 2000 square feet, is the focal point. Byzantine and Venetian glass are the materials--Venetian glass is glass from Venice, and Byzantine glass are small glass tiles, usually opague, made by mixing molten glass with metal oxides for color. The technique was developed in ancient Byzantium, and the glass is also called smalti. Smalti can be mass-produced these days.

I really like the image at right, because it shows some detail of the pieces. I 'borrowed' it from the LA County Arts Commission website.
The mosaic has four sections: "The Gift to Humanity," "Arrival," "The Heart of the People," and "Departure." THe figures on it are famous people of past years--people like Cesar Chavez, Ruben Salazar, Oscar De La Hoya, Edward James Olmos, and even Supervisor Molina.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Public Art: The One Percent Solution

Years ago, I was told of Los Angeles' one percent rule on public art. I've just now looked it up: In 1989, the city passed a law allocating one percent of all costs of capital improvements to commission public artwork.

That's why so many of the business office buildings have street-level sculpture or fountains. The city's Cultural Affairs Dept. keeps records and even a pool of pre-approved artists who might accept commissions.

Here's an example, which I chose only because the artist has my grandmother's last name: Tim Doyle's Cutting Corners, installed 2003 at Wilshire near Bundy.

What do others feel about this policy? The 1% art of Los Angeles can feel cold and uninviting. Beautiful fountains--but often no pedestrian traffic enjoying them. Is it the location which discourages public enjoyment of the public art, or does the legislated origin of the art make it less...lovable? That's all so subjective, it must be clear that I'm just talking through my hat. I'm actually very happy that cities have such policies, because I doubt that many businesses would include public art in their budgets otherwise.

None of which applies to the piece at right, titled Cradle...except that it's in Santa Monica, and Santa Monica also has a 1% public art policy for capital improvements.

Ball Nogues Studio created it for an exterior wall of the new Santa Monica Place, facing Colorado Blvd. Construction crews are still working on this section of parking lot--that's what the commotion at the bottom is. The piece was commissioned by the City of Santa Monica and is 39 feet wide.

Here's a 2:37 minute video of time lapse photography of the installation, which is nearly as exciting as watching grass grow.

Here's what the Argonaut says about Cradle:

Cradle is called an aggregation of mirror-polished, stainless steel spheres, and the sculpture operates structurally like an enormous Newton’s Cradle — the ubiquitous toy that can be found on the desktops of corporate executives. Each ball is suspended by a cable from a point on the wall and locked in position by a combination of gravity and neighboring balls. As a whole, the balls imply an articulated surface suggestive of foam or sea life, said Ball Nogues Studio representatives.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Church with Sheets Mosaics

A two-fer. When I started Mosaic Mondays I realized that most posts would be on either Millard Sheets or churches, and today we have both.

Precious Blood Catholic Church on Occidental near 4th Street was built in 1926. In 1951, Wallace Neff oversaw a remodel and contracted with Millard Sheets for the mosaics surrounding the altar. That's about all I know, and I thank Marcello Vavala of the Los Angeles Conservancy for telling me about this beautiful site.

The gold is dazzling and overwhelming. I could not get a decent picture from the back of the church--it was a bit like trying to photograph the sun. At another time, with different lighting, a better photo is surely possible.

When I visited just after the 4th of July weekend, a film crew from Sons of Anarchy was taping dark, heavy trashbag plastic over the stained glass windows in preparation for shooting. So the church and mosaic may soon make a TV appearance.

While the angels are "evocative of an earlier era," as Marcello put it, the lower, earthbound artwork is very much Sheets' style of painting.

I'm kind of amazed that Wikipedia, the Catholic Directory, and even an LA Times article on Precious Blood Catholic Church never mention the incredible artistry of this church. The sites call the church Italian Romanesque in style and state that it has three rose windows.  Well, it does and rose windows are nothing to sneeze at, but for heaven sakes...if you walked into a vault lined with gold and someone asked you what it was like, would you talk about the pretty windows outside the vault?

The only place that notes this church's artistic heritage officially are the folks who produced the Angel's Walk LA pamphlet on the Wilshire Center, which includes a paragraph about Precious Blood Church.

As for this shot to the right, I really screwed around with the contrast, etc, to try and get some details of the angels in. Didn't result in the payoff I'd hoped for...

Please do yourself a favor when you're in the neighborhood--the edge of Silver Lake--and drop into the church yourself. Outside and in, it's covered with mosaics: the Stations of the Cross, the Seven Sacraments, etc. But it's Millard Sheets' earth and angels around the altar that truly make this sanctuary not just religious, but transcendent.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hollywood Chase, Part Deux

Yikes! How could I let this slip? Fortunately it's only 11pm in Los Angeles and I have the pictures....

These mosaics are mounted on the back end of the Hollywood Chase Bank, the former Home Savings and Loan. I showed a portion of the front last week. The bank actually sits diagonally to the corner, leaving a big triangle of land for public art on the corner. There's a fountain there with a bronze figure of Europa--a fountain that needs lots of regular maintenance. Since the fountain was drained when I showed up to take photos, I didn't bother shooting it. To fill that void, here is a link to a lovely picture on the YouAreHere website.

This, however, is the back of the bank--probably the loveliest bank derriere you will ever see.

There are four figures in back--larger than those in front. Remember, this was designed and built in 1968, so the choice of icons should not be a surprise. Charles Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII--a classic, made in 1933, for which Laughton won an Oscar. Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday--again, she won the Oscar for that role, and I think that's why she's not portrayed as Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's, for which she was nominated, but didn't win) or Eliza Doolittle (My Fair Lady).

On the right as you face the back entrance, we have Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins--an Oscar winner, of course, but more importantly, my role model. I jumped off the roof with an umbrella many times after seeing that movie--but, as I hadn't read The Secrect in 1964, I did not manage to fly. (I did, however, not break my leg, and that's something.)

The last figure, on the left in this picture, is William S. Hart.

You might expect that one out of four might slip out of public memory in 42 years, and so William S. Hart has. He was the original cowboy star (I had to look him up--he was born during the Civil War and became a movie star. Amazing, huh?) He never won an Oscr because his last movie was made in 1925.

Of course, just because I didn't recognize Hart doesn't mean he's forgotten. But I suspect most folks, like me, need a nudge.

The black marble is inscribed with the names of other Hollywood greats, just like on the front of the bank. Inside, there's a stained glass window depicting chase scenes--as well as The Squaw Man mural, which I think I mentioned last week. And now it is officially Tuesday; I've had two glasses of wine and am probably no longer an authority on anything.