Monday, May 30, 2011

St. Margaret Mary Mosaic

Today's mosaic is actually background--but lovely background. It simulates the heavenly light from the crucifix at St. Margaret Mary Alocoque Catholic Church in Lomita. (The "Alacoque" is often omitted.)  Here's two views to give you the full effect. I suspect the garlands and drapes are part of the church's Easter decorations and will disappear shortly. Or not.

It all makes for a very pretty and festive presentation

I think that I shall never see
A cosier communitee.

Actually, St. Margaret Mary's is one of the loveliest and most inviting churches I've been to. There's a school next door, so the grounds are pretty large and dotted with well-planned rose bushes, trees, and a few alcoves with saint statues.

This particular tree between the church (on the left) and another building was draped in sweet-smelling jasmine. I'm sure that's a mood-changer for everyone who passes underneath.

The present church opened in 1954 on Easter Sunday and it held 800 people under its 40-ft ceiling. The parish itself, hoswever, has existed since the late 1930s.

It's been renovated a few times, most recently in 2001. That renovation was four times the inital cost of building the church: $800,000. Over the 2001 summer, while work was done on the church, mass was celebrated under a big white tent in the parking lot.

I suspect the mosaic dates from then (early references say a red curtain hung there previously) but I can't confirm that.

I didn't know this, but the church started the Lomita Fair, a big annual event that brings people from all over South Bay each September.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mystery Bolts Explained

Before I start, no one's allowed to say, "Duh, I knew that!" Because this topic has come up and I've asked the question before (well, not here. In real life.), and no one had an answer.

I've finally learned what those not-so-decorative random diamonds/blobs on old building facades are. You can see them to the right of the tree's leaves, above the windows. The very top one, over the dark horizontal border, seems to be a giant tac through a white diamond shape, while others within the bordered area have no shape at all--as if someone just hammered evenly spaced bolts to the brick.

They are ugly--but not all examples are this ugly. Some seem evenly spaced, some arc.

I learned from Ancient L.A. (a book described in a previous post) that these are in fact bolts, and they are put in brick buildings as part of earthquake retrofitting.

I hear you! You're all saying, "Duh, I knew that!" aren't you?

Well, I didn't know.

These particularly unattractive examples of earthquake safety are on 7th Street in San Pedro. I love the one on the left. I can just imagine a disgruntled engineer saying, "You want bolts? I'll give you bolts!" before going crazy on the building.

It looks like ... like mebbe giants were playing Battleship using the bricks as squares?

The author of Ancient L.A. points out that many old buildings have plastered over their bricks and these unsightly blemishes, but clearly Ye Olde San Pedro has not reached that level of gentrification. I'd like to say the bolts add character, but they're just flat-out ugly.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mosaic Tuesday

Grr...missed Mosaic Monday again. Not complaining--being busy and having fun are wonderful things, but I am sorry I couldn't come up with a mosaic yesterday.

So I will link to a wonderful blog post by Lillian Sizemore, which has a Los Angeles connection since she is a visiting artist at the Getty, conducting workshops since March on ancient patterns of mosaics. In fact, the art created by Lillian and her students will be sold as part of a fundraiser for Piece by Piece, in Los Angeles at The Mark (9320 Pico) on June 4.

This post shows how she and her students created "meander" mosaic borders, like the kind seen on ancient Greek and Roman mosaics.

On the post, there are tons of pictures showing the art created. In a previous article, she defines what meander means and where the term comes from. (Hint: there's a Maeander River in Homer.)

This bunny mosaic, about 1800 years old, was displayed at the Getty in a show of Tunisian mosaics in 2007, and it shows a meander pattern border.

(I have a refrigerator magnet of this mosaic. It's my favorite, partly because I was once the honored caretaker of a rabbit who is currently going for the world's record in bunny longevity.) (Which is neither hare nor there, I know.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tongva Villages

Found a odd little book in the library--odd because it's published by The Unreinforced Masonry Studio in Los Angeles in 1999--I think a small press owned by the author, since he's published several books on L. A. history with that imprint. Titled Ancient L.A., it's a series of essays by one Michael Jacob Rochlin.

The first section is on the Tongva villages. and it's part collection of facts from sources like Hugo Reid and Indian history books, and part photos culled from the LA Library's collection. The photos are not well reproduced; none have titles or dates, though some are interesting.

Rochlin puts some fascinating information together in novel ways, but doesn't give a lot of context for understanding. So I'm not sure I'd recommend him to someone working on a term paper, but his book is a good read for Los Angeles history fanatics looking for a fresh viewpoint.

I photographed these two maps from the book; don't know where Rochlin got them.

The first map is of known Tongva Villages in the 1700-1800s, the second is of cities with a population greater than 500 in 1900. Rochlin points out that "a majority of Los Angeles County towns with a 1900 population of five hundred or more had been established by indigenous peoples."

The Tongva villages were set on high ground, near rivers or the ocean, and usually at the intersection of two environmental zones. Communication and trade flourished, so you found villages near a salt lake, a tar pit, or something that the villagers could trade.

Portola followed a native path that is now Wilshire Blvd, according to Rochlin (he cites 3 sources for this fact)(forgive me; I went to graduate school and love footnotes). Portola returned to the sea along a native route that the Spanish would call El Camino Real, and which the 101 Freeway now follows.

Anyway, I had great fun comparing the two maps. Pasekgna = San Fernando; Suangna = Wilmington; Sukangna = Whittier, and so on.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Burbank Mosaics by Beverly Bigwood

Today's mosaics are found in Burbank, along the entryway and steps leading to The Villas in the 700 block of E. Olive. The Villas are condos that stretch for half the block on the odd-numbered side. You can't see the mosaics well on Google Earth; I tried.

"Mii Amo" is the name of the artwork, and the artist is Beverly Bigwood. A search in the Los Angeles Times turned up this story: in the late 1980s, Bigwood was most known for paper portraits. "Two of her works were stolen from a Westwood gallery along with a Miro, a Dali and a Lichtenstein." Not bad company, if you're going to be hijacked.

You can see samples of Bigwood's portraits and collage works at her website,

The mosaic steps and passageway was commissioned by the City of Burbank's Public Arts Commission. On the risers of the steps, a mosaic waterfall descends--it's hard to see in these pictures.

The work was installed in 2004--here's a photo showing the plaque from the city. As far as I can tell, this was her first mosaic work--quite amazing.

Burbank enjoys more of Bigwood's art along King Street, where all those metal animal silhouettes on fences and gates are hers--also commissioned by the city of Burbank. The project is called "Urban Meadows," and you can see pictures here.

While Beverly Bigwood's work has been featured in over a hundred exhibitions all over the US and Europe, her home is in the South Bay and she's been very involved with the Palos Verdes Art Center over the years.

This month, Bigwood joined with other artists in an exhibit called "Come Together for Unity--A Group Show of Artists in Support of Humanity Art and Nature." It's at the P.S. Zask Gallery in the Promenade in the Peninsual Mall (in Palos Verdes). A part of the proceeds from all artwork sold will go to the Red Cross of Japan to help the Tsunami victims. The grand opening was two days ago, but the show runs through June 4th.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Imagine a Circus...with Trapeze

This Sunday night (May 15) on the Santa Monica Pier you can thrill to the daring feats of trapeze artists, in a show called "Imagine A Circus."
This picture is from one of their last rehearsals. The show starts at 6:30 PM. For more info or to reserve your place, go to the LeapsNBoundz FB page and click on the EVENT button on the left.

Leaps ... N ... Boundz is a sports and recreation program for kids with special needs, btw. Gymnastics, swimming, or just palling around and making friends. Money raised by the Imagine a Circus event goes to the Leaps N Boundz Foundation.

When was the first mention of trapeze in the Los Angeles Times? February 12, 1882. On that night, during a masked ball, "the Turner boys did themselves proud by the fine exhibition of their prowess on the trapeze."  The Times also complimented "eccentric characters" as well, but I think the writer was not referring to the Turner boys. The acting of the characters was "quite too utterly, too."

All this took place at Turnverein Hall, a 50 by 50 foot building on Figueroa that may have been the only theater in Los Angeles when it was built in the 1870s. Alternately, some have it as the first athletic club and call it Turn Verein Hale.. USC's archives has an 1885 picture of the two-story building and puts it at 29th and 30th streets.

But go see Imagine A Circus. It'll be quite too utterly, too.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Downey Civic Theater

Today's mosaics are mountd in the lobby of the Downey Civic Theater on Firestone Blvd. (or 2nd, at Brookshire) in Downey. The 748-seat theater is part of the Downey Civic Center and Embassy Suites Hotel.

The Downey Theater (the word "Civic" seems to be optional) had its gala opening with a performance of  "The Sound of Music" in late October, 1970, according to the Los Angeles Times. It's history goes back a bit further: for fourteen years, a Downey Children's Theater Group had operated out of a school auditorium. Eventually the city raised $1.9 million through cigarette and hotel taxes, specifically to build the theater.

The Times was impressed by the local participation: Downey residents assembled two 70-member casts for the musical, each complete cast playing alternate shows (except for John Woods, who played Capt. von Trapp in all shows. He was that good.) Local residents also made up the 35-piece orchestra. No mention of the lobby mosaics is made, though.

In March 1971, astronauts Alan Shephard, Edgar Mitchell, and Stuart Roosa landed by helicopter in Downey and spoke at the theater. It was a busy place--looks like everything from beauty pagents to opera to marionettes have played there.

The theater's had its ups and downs over the years, and I've looked over dozens of articles. But nowhere do I see a mention of the mosaics!

I suspect--since they deal so much with history--that they were added either during the nation's Bicentennial (1976) or Downey's Centennial, a few years ago. But that's a guess.

This last picture is added to give a sense of the lobby--the mosaics are upper right. The photos are in a Flicker stream presented by the Downey Historic Conservancy.

If someone can enlighten me, tell me when the mosaics were installed and who the artist is, etc. I will gladly post that information along with your favorite picture (as long as it's not obscene).

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tongva Village Names

Do you wonder how we know the names and sometimes the locations of Tongva villages while much of the language and cultural knowledge of the Tongva was lost?

Or maybe it’s just me. I always wonder about that sort of thing.

Well, there are a couple of sources for the village names. One is the baptismal records at the mission—in this case, the San Gabriel Mission. When a Native American was baptized by the Franciscans, the record noted where he or she was from. Many village names appear over and over again in the records.

Some books refer to Chowigna as a particular village, but most agree that it was a branch of the Tongva in a particular geographic area. Chowigna villagers were all over the Palos Verdes Peninsula (as noted in the previous post), on Catalina Island, in Redondo Beach, Long Beach, and even in Orange County.

There were also a few European-descended commentators who wrote about the local Indians. I have a library book that’s a collection of letters written by Hugo Reid in the 1850s. Reid was an immigrant from Scotland who came to California, married a Tongva woman, and eventually owned Rancho Santa Anita—though he went bankrupt and lost it. Read more about him at ArcadiasBest, here.

This statue of Hugo Reid and his wife, children, and faithful dog, stands in  the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia, outside Reid's adobe home.
After bankruptcy, Reid wrote a series of essays on the local Indians, possibly hoping to establish himself as an expert so he’d get a government appointment. Unfortunately, Reid died the same year his essays were printed in the Los Angeles Star: 1852.

Reid listed dozens of villages and their locations. He also listed vocab words such as numbers, colors, etc., gave some basic information about religion, customs and practices for marriage, birth, death, punishing crimes, healing, etc. For instance, Reid says that “during the season of flowers” women and children wove flowers into their hair and strung flowers and stems together into boas.

Reid also records some fables. Given that his wife was Tongva, I’m guessing that he had good access to his information and presented it faithfully.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Chowigna Villages

Under some condominiums built in the Malaga Cove area of Palos Verdes, very near Torrance, are the remains of villages that date back over 7000 years. Yes, seven thousand. People were living there and eating raw shellfish.

At various times over the millennia, other groups made their homes there. The most recent prehistoric settlers were a branch of the Tongva people called Chowigna. The Malaga Cove site was excavated in 1936-37 by the Southwest Museum and USC, and thousands of artifacts were catalogued.

The picture here is of a Santa Fe Springs Interpretive Center model home--I borrow it from one Tongva tribal website (there is more than one).

The Tongva lived in Palos Verdes from around 1000 AD to around the mid-1700s. They used pots and ornaments made from soapstone from Catalina Island--proof of a flourishing trade. Other villages dotted the Peninsula--Archaeologist William Wallace told the LA Times in 1971 that he knew of at least 70 sites, though he hadn't excavated all of them.

The Tongva villagers left behind glass beads, traded from the Spanish, and shortly after that the village was abandoned when at least 150 people (possibly the entire village population) were taken to the Mission San Gabriel.

All this and a bit more are in an article I wrote for that ran last Monday. Wikipedia also has a  lot of info about Tongva villages.

The most intriguing bit of information I learned is that the largest village in the area. Suang Na, was on Lake Machado in Harbor City--but nobody knows exactly what side of the lake. It hasn't been found or excavated, iow. I'm not suggesting anyone start digging now, but it is nice to know that there is lots for us still to learn.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Central Library Mosaic Dome

In honor of the 25th anniversary of the library fire, today's mosaic is a survivor of the blaze: the mosaic dome atop the 1926 structure.

Here's a paragraph from both Tribes.tribe.net and Wikipedia describing it:

Architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue designed the original Los Angeles Central Library to mimic the architecture of ancient Egypt. The central tower is topped with a tiled mosaic pyramid with suns on either side with a hand holding a torch representing the "Light of Learning" at the apex. Other elements include sphinxes, snakes, and celestial mosaics. It has similarities to the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska, also designed by Goodhue and which also featured sculpture by the architectural sculptor Lee Lawrie.

The library itself has a page on its art, but I could find nothing about the dome. However, they do have an incredible archive of dozens of pictures taken during construction in 1925 (top right) and 1926 (bottom right.)

And dang, all the color pictures I find of the mosaic are so washed out I don't want to use them. The exception at top is from the VigilantCitizen blog, which writes about symbolism on our public places. That post also includes extensive biographies of Goodhue and the artists who contributed to the library, as well as a discussion of the symbolism of the tower mosaic--mostly focused on the pyramid and the sun.