Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Los Angeles that Could Have Been

Fergitabout da things dat'r gone...what about da things dat never got built?

I came across two items on that theme this week. One is from Adam Arenson, who is writing the definitive book on the Art of Home Savings and Loan (not sure if that's the final title). On his blog, he posted about a nearly-forgotten project from 1954: the Monument to Democracy. That's a drawing at left, as proposed by Millard Sheets.

This monument was to sit in our port, as the Statue of Liberty sits outside New York City. The statue was to stand 480 feet tall, and the base was another 46 feet tall. The globe alone would have been 125 feet in diameter.

The champion of this project was County Supervisor John Anson Ford. Ironically, as Arenson points out, this project was being discussed just as Sheets was designing his first building for Howard Ahmanson--the precursor or trial run for the many banks he would then build.

And the second item?  This Forbes article by David Hochman about things in LA that never were--in fact, the piece is about a museum exhibit called "Never Built: Los Angeles."

The exhibit would include models and original plans that we can only now imagine. Among them:

  • LAX, with its central hub covered by a giant glass dome, 

  • A huge cylindrical skyscraper of a hotel rising right out of the ocean west of Santa Monica. The drawing at right was done by Carlos Diniz in 1968, based on the design by Tony Lumsden.

  • A parks plan commissioned in 1927 from Olmstead and Bartholomew--the former name refers to the sons of Frederick Law Olmstead who had their own design firm. The idea was to build Los Angeles around "parks, playgrounds, and beaches." (Here is Christopher Hawthorn's LAT article summarizing that episode--it's truly interesting. Hawthorn praised the plan as possessing "astonishing sophistication and farsightedness.")

Piling irony on top of irony, the exhibit "Never Built: Los Angeles" may never show. The curators, Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin, need money to build their models and exhibits, so "Never Built: Los Angeles" is now on Kickstarter, soliciting donations.

So we can not only not get it built, but we can't see what we ain't got.

Everyone who has looked into this brings up the same magical idea--our city could have been very different. That in turn would have made us different. So it becomes an exercise in 'what-if' history that leads us to wonder about missed opportunities and redemption.

The book at left, btw, is about that 1927 parks project. You can buy Eden by Design: The 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan for the Los Angeles Region from Amazon.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Mosaics

It's not from Los Angeles, but this is kinda neat:

The picture at right is a closeup of a mosaic made of Legos.

Since this is a Christmas Eve posting, can you guess the subject from the closeup?

The mosaic was built in 2004 in Spartanburg, SC by Eric C. Harshbarger at the Christian Supply store. The store and artist actually planned this for a year, according to Eric's blog.

And the store owned it and may still be displaying it, for all I know.

Eric is not a mosaicist, really, more a puzzle-ologist who does these amazing installations--as well as creating gizmos, aplets, and doodads.

OK, here's the finished work, another photo from Eric's own blog (hope he doesn't mind). To the left of the mosaic is the picture it was based on, a Nativity scene by (I think) Tom DuBois. DuBois' work--many Nativity scenes and paintings of Mary--can be seen here at LDS Art.

The mosaic is 90 inches by 70 inches and Eric limited himself to 8 colors. He had three days in SC to build it, and about a third of work was done in advance. The store wanted him to work on it standing up so the customers could see a work in progress. I get the impression from his blog that doing so was not easy. I found more pictures of the work in progress on Eric's blog and here.

But the effect is stunning, isn't it? The torchlight especially.

Eric spent 34 hours over three days, and used 30,000 pieces on this mosaic.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Santa Claus Lane Parade History

KCET has put up a slew of pictures (like the one at right) along with a history of the Santa Claus Lane Parade. This was taken during the daytime, when the street was being readied for the parade, in 1928--the year of the first parade.

It was a Chamber of Commerce stunt to bring attention to the shops in the area. Those are living fir trees in the photo, brought from Big Bear in planters filled with soil. One hundred in all, and they were later transplanted at the Hollywood Bowl.

For that first parade, movie starlet Jeanette Loff sat with Santa in his sleigh. And for the first few years, Hollywood actually maintained a small herd of reindeer that pulled that sleigh.

Well, actually, it was the County Parks Department who maintained them, but they were quite real. I found out those little tidbits while researching my upcoming book, The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories.  That's the proposed cover to the left.

Yup, that's me and my brother and he gave me permission to use his photo. Actually, I think he's more troubled by the bow tie he had to wear than his terrified expression.

And yes, this is a shameless plug, especially since the book won't be available till next May. Here's a link to the website, where I will be posting to a blog of Boomer trivia.

But self-promotion aside, check out the many pictures (I counted 19) on the KCET "LA as Subject" post--it'll bring back memories or at least, fill you with a twinge of nostalgia!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Marx Brothers Screening

No better way to ring out 2012.

Culver City will present a FREE showing of Night at the Opera, staring Harpo and those other guys, on December 29th at 3 pm.

Where? The Veterans Memorial Auditorium at the SW corner of Culver and Overland.

Why? Because it's Culver City's 95th anniversary, and because the 1935 film was made at the MGM lot in Culver City. Or maybe it's just because Culver City is feeling whimsical. Who cares?

You don't need reservations.

There's plenty of free parking.

Why did one of my writing clubs decide to hold their Christmas party that afternoon?

Hmmm . . . Marx Brothers on the big screen v. people I see every month anyway . . .

There's also something going on with the Culver City Historical Society and their archives, between 1 and 3pm . That group's Archive Resource Center is located in the rear of the Veterans Memorial Building, and admission is also free.You'll be able to see a dress from Meet Me in St. Louis (also shot in Culver City) and other film and civic memorabilia.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mystery Mosaic at ELAC

This mosaic, unsigned, is on the exterior wall of the Writing Lab of East Los Angeles College. Everyone seems certain that this used to be the Music Building, but other than that, not much is known about the mosaic itself or when it was installed.

Here's a close-up on the left. My thanks to Professor Daniel Lambert for these pictures.

So, please, anyone who knows anything about the mosaic or the artist--who must be a cat lover--drop a line in the comments!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Worst School Disaster

Like everyone else, my FB page is full of calls for attention to mental illness and petitions to tighten up gun sales. I'm for anything that helps.

HOWEVER, my friend has posted a piece on her blog about an even worse incident of violence against school children that  occurred in Bath, Michigan. While I usually focus on Los Angeles history, I think this is worth reading.

Weirdly, knowing it all happened 85 years ago made reading the story a bit cathartic for me. The picture came from an EBay ad.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

...And I Like Mike, Honest!

Like so many, I had the highest hopes when the Lakers signed Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni. And as a nearly indefatigable optimist, I still do. I mean, the season's not even a quarter through, right? Or just barely. And when Nash's shin heals, whenever that is, and everyone gets used to Mike's style, then maybe, with all fingers and toes crossed...

But to get to the point of this post, here's a post from The Onion about D'Antoni and the Lakers that should make anyone smile through the tears.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bringing Back the Streetcar

Looks like it's closer to happening.

At right is the approved route. Reconnect and revitalize seem to be the buzzwords. It started back when we had a Community Redevelopment Agency (i.e., the new good ol' days), and now other groups have stepped in keep the project moving, like Metro and City Hall. The Federal government has awarded grants to help develop streetcar lines in other big cities, so why not here in LA?

Like the old streetcars--the Red Cars, etc.--this would move along fixed rails in the street. Supporters say it would fill in gaps in the current bus & metro system, making Downtown accessible. As Eric Metz wrote on the UrbanOne website :

Despite Downtown’s compact size, it’s difficult to have dinner in South Park or at L.A. LIVE and then attend a performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall without driving or taking a taxi. 

Wow. I just took a look at the html code for that quote. Paragraphs and paragraphs!

Anyway, here are a couple of pictures: the old and the new. The picture on the left is from the LA Library's Herald Examiner Collection. Although the streetcar is id'd as one built in 1906, the picture's date in 1952.

The right hand picture is from the Urban One site.

I think the new streetcar is kinda cute. What do you think?

The most up-to-date and comprehensive information is at the StreetcarLA site, where the map came from.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Evelyn Ackerman, Mosaicist

Evelyn Ackerman wasn't simply a mosaicist--she worked with all sorts of materials: textiles, metals, glass, paint & canvas--and of course, tiles.Unless you go to gallery shows, though, you may not have seen her work.

The mosaic pictured here, Rain, hangs in the Culver City home she shared with her husband of six-plus decades, Jerome Ackerman.

Evelyn Ackerman passed away just a few days ago.

You can see more of her work at the Ackerman Modern website. You can also read a detailed biography of the couple there.

Everyone refers to her as a "mid-century" artist, and I guess that's true. She started making mosaics in 1955, and most pictures of mosaics that I've found date to the 1950s.

The picture at right is from 1952, and she's standing outside the West LA studio on Federal Avenue that she and her husband opened. The name was a combination:  JErome 'N' EVelyn. By 1956, the date of the installation below left, Jenev was called era Industries, and they eventually moved to the Pacific Design Studio until they retired. The Ackermans worked together to produce ceramics and pottery (mostly by Jerry) and tapestries, wooden carvings, and metal objects like door handles.

In order to concentrate on design, the mosaics--both pictures and tables--and other items were made in Mexico. In one interview I read, Jerry said that "Evvy and I always had a great curiosity about materials . . . we wanted to stretch. We enjoyed the exploration." 

I tried desperately to find a picture of local public art. The picture of Evelyn standing before the installation of a mosaic panel is at an apartment building on Kiowa, said to be registered with the Los Angeles Mural Conservancy--but I could not find a photo of it besides this one, from the AckermanModern website. It's called "Fantasy Landscape" and was installed in 1956.

Ackerman is one of 40 women featured in the current Autry National Center exhibit, "California's Designing Women," through January 6.

Here are several Los Angeles Times pieces on Evelyn Ackerman:

  • A charming and personal eulogy by David Keeps

  • The official LAT obituary

  • Pictures of her work here--starting with one of the few public mosaics she did: "Sea, Land, and Sky" in Santa Barbara, and here (featuring work by her husband) and even more here, highlighting their Culver City home.

Monday, December 3, 2012

MacArthur Park Metro Mosaic

At the CuratingLA blog, I found a nice write-up of Metro LA's public art program, which started in 1989. Over 300 works of art have been commissioned through that program, which combines private donations with public funds. The work below is titled "Urban Oasis," and the artist is Sonia Romero.

Romero created 13 pictures, six framed in red and seven in blue. They are installed at the mezzanine level of the Westlake/MacArthur Park Metro Station for all to see.

I particularly like the two-guys-at-booth picture. It's Langers, and the guy on the right is Norm, the manager. The guy on the left? Norm's Dad, Al Langer, the founder--photographed just before he passed away.

All these photos came from the Metro "About Art" site.

The corner Art Deco designs are all copied from buildings in the neighborhood. The division between the two sets of pictures--red and blue--is Wilshire Blvd.

"Urban Oasis" was named one of the The Best Public Art Installations in the US by Americans for the Arts.

In this center mosaic below, the artist appears holding a paintbrush.

Sonia Romero is not necessarily a mosaicist, but like many of the artist who've contributed work to our Metro Stations, she created pictures that could be tile-ized and reformed by the wizards at Mosaika. (You can see the step-by-step details on Mozaika's blog, where the picture below right came from.)

To create her artwork, she walked the neighborhood, talked to people. As you'll learn if you watch the YouTube video,  at the CuratingLA site, where she talks about "Urban Oasis."

Romero describes the process--her artwork was done as a lino-cut print and then made into bas-relief hand-carved porcelein tile.

Sonia Romero grew up in Echo Park and went to LA County High School for the Arts, btw, and works out of the She Rides the Lion Print Studio on Avenue 50 in NE LA. SheRidestheLion is also her Twitter name, but don't bother with the blog SheRidestheLion. That belongs to a writing mommy.

If you've seen the medallions that went up in Little Tokyo a couple of months ago--the Lucky Kitty and other Japanese doll images--those are Romero's work too.

BTW, there are FREE public art tours of Metro Stations on the first Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday of each month. The Thursday tour departs at 7 pm, and the Saturday at 10 am, both from the Hollywood/Highland Station. The Sunday tour, also at 10 am, departs from Union Station. Details here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pershing Square, 1962

Marvin Wolf (whose book Fallen Angels you see at far right) took these pictures fifty years ago, when he wandered around Pershing Square with his camera. Just out of the army, he came into the city for a job interview, and was told to come back after lunch.

This particular monument is the oldest piece of public art in Los Angeles, and memorializes those who died in the Spanish American War in 1898.

Twenty-one names are listed. The title at top reads "7th Cal. Inf., U.S.V." The monument went up in 1900, through the efforts of veteran Charlie Hammond, to honor his fellow soldiers. The artist was Samuel M. Goddard.

The man standing next to the monument told Marvin that his father served in that war, in the Navy.

And as I learned from the MilitaryMuseum site, California sent thousands of men to fight in the Spanish American war. The men remembered in Pershing Square never made it to the fighting, though. They died of disease while stationed at the Presidio in Northern California, most of them after the Armistice was signed.

In 1993, the monument was moved from its original location and changed--the base height was reduced by half, according to this information from the PublicArtinLA site.

The Biltmore Hotel is in the background. And now, in December, ice skating season is open! $6 an hour plus $2 for skate rental.

Marvin apologized for what he called "solarization"--and I assume he means the mottled look on the face of the two men at left. If you blow the picture up, you can see it. The negatives were not perfectly preserved for all of that fifty years.

I remember what I was doing fifty years ago. Well, sort of. I remember my classroom, and I remember coming home from school to hear a lot of shouting in the house during the World Series. The teams were the Yankees and Giants, and we cheered for the Giants because they were from California. At least my Dad did. Mom cheered for baseball, no matter who was playing.

Those of you too young to remember anything that happened fifty years ago--it's a weird feeling. Fifty years is a long time. How can I remember that long ago when I clearly do not feel that old?

But look at these guys here. Chances are, they were around during World War One.

And observe how little men's suits have changed in fifty years.

Wanna see what the park looked like in the 1880s? Click here.