Monday, February 10, 2014

Leimert Park Mosaic

Leimert Park has been in the news this week. Well, to be accurate, it's been in the Los Angeles Times this week. The discussion is whether the area can become the African-American cultural hub it once was. The speculation is raised because a new Metro Station will be installed there in 2019.

I say yes, not because I know anything (when has that ever stopped a blogger from voicing her opinion?) but because Leimert Park has street art and mosaics. So there.

This particular mosaic is on an alley off Degnan between 43rd Street and Place. It's on the side of the Sika Gallery, facing that big parking lot with the blue wave on its fence.

That building was sold last year, but other than the fact of its sale, it looks like life goes on as usual.

The photo was taken just after a street fair--that's the explanation for all the chalk art. So says the blog Local Looking Glass, which displayed this picture and a few others of street art in the neighborhood--including some clay planters on the street with mosaic designs on them.

The 2009 picture at left came from an inactive blog called  LeimertLovely, whose tagline reads: "I am a patholgical picture taker..."

I can relate to that.

The framing is slightly different four years ago, but the mosaic itself looks the same. Someone has painted the wooden frame yellow, obviously, and painted the rattan (is that right?) dark blue--maybe to hide wear and tear?

There's another mosaic in Leimert Park: the entryway of the Vision Theater. That big parking lot mentioned earlier is, I believe, the parking lot of the Vision Theater, which faces 43rd Street. The mosaic floor spills out onto the sidewalk of 43rd Street, and reminds me a bit of the mosaics in front of Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway. They a re probably from the same era, since the Vision Theater started life as a fancy movie palace back in 1931 when--according to the Vision Theater website--Howard Hughes built it.

Anyway, here is a picture of that, which I found at LAist's page on Leimert Park. And that, btw, is a great place to get some detailed history of the area.

Bottom line is that I have no idea who put up the Native American mosaic or when. If anyone else has information, I'll be glad to put it up here.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Los Angeles County Seal

All in favor of not wasting money on a seal that nobody pays attention to, raise your hands.

Yes, I'm on a bit of a soapbox. But it is about history.

This is the Los Angeles County Seal.

Mostly it was designed by Millard Sheets in 1957. I say mostly because there have been few modifications. The "goddess Pomona" that he drew (he lived near Pomona and was actively involved in designing their outdoor mall in the early 60s) has been replaced by a Native American-looking woman. Oil derricks were removed and replaced by the drawing of a mission, seen as more pertinent to our history. And a tiny cross was removed, under threat of lawsuit by the ACLU.

You can read the history of the County Seal, which dates back to 1887, here.

Los Angeles is not a Christains-only county, so having one religious symbol and excluding others did not seem right. The courts agreed.

And even though I am a huge fan of Millard Sheets, I think those changes were fine. Times and sensibilities change.

But as the Los Angeles Times reports--or editorializes--it ain't over.

Nine and a half years after the last changes were made, two County Supervisors, Don Knabe & Michael D. Antonovich, have been joined by a third, Mark Ridley-Thomas, in asking that the cross be put back on the seal. And the three of them got the motion approved.

First, didn't Michael D. Antonovich used to be Mike?

But more importantly, why are resources and time being wasted on this grand-standing effort that predictably has evoked the threat of a lawsuit?

The editorial by Robert Greene makes it clear that he thinks this controversy is silly.

I do too. We do have other things to fuss over, as a county. Don't we? And if we don't, do we need the Board of Supervisors and their staff?

The seal--that you probably didn't even know about--is fine the way it is. The change these three supervisors are proposing will open the county up to more lawsuits, besides offending many of its inhabitants. Voting inhabitants. It spends money that is in short supply and is better channeled to other pursuits.

Knabe, I think, will be term-limited out by the next election. Antonovich too, though he's been a Supervisor since 1980. As for Ridley-Thomas, he'll face re-election . . . or not.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Mosaics at St. John's Cathedral

Today's mosaics are from a church. It's been a while.

The church is Episcopalian:  St. John's Pro Cathedral at 514 W. Adams Blvd. (at Figueroa), in the University Park area.

It was built over three years, 1922 through 1925. And as the Getty Iris "My LA" blog points out, Los Angeles went through a big growth spurt in the 1920s, with new, elaborate buildings--some very modern like the Pantages Theatre, some mission-era Spanish themed, and some--like St. John's--imitative of European structures--in this case, a Romanesque church.

This arch curves right over the lectern, I believe. The priest stands under it while reading the service or sermon. And you also get a glimpse of an incredibly ornate carved wooden ceiling, which came from Oberammergau--the German town where the big Passion Play is performed every ten years. Turns out Oberammergau is also famous for its wood carving.

According to the Episcopal News Service, the church was designed as a close copy of an 11th century church of San Pietro in Tuscany. So its walls are two and a half feet thick all the way up. Its foundations extend 16 feet down.

A community 2,000 strong had been worshiping at an older church for more than thirty years when St. John's was built. The architects were Pierpont and Walter S. Davis.

From the first, the plan was to incorporate mosaics, murals, and marble of different shades. Wealthy parishioners donated the marble for alter rails, for the mosaic floor, the pipe organ, stained glass windows, and more. It's become a showplace of great beauty, as well as a very lively, community-oriented church with a definite ecumenical slant to it. St. John's was a parish church until 2008, when it was made a pro-Cathedral. Another Cathedral, St. Paul's on Figueroa, had to be demolished in 1979 due to earthquake damage.

The Episcopal News Service said this about the mosaics:

Kowalewski [the Very Rev. Canon Mark Kowalewski,the church's rector] said the beautiful gold mosaics on the chapel walls have been featured in books. "St. John's was the only church included on a tour of mosaics in Los Angeles" recently, he said. One mosaic depicts the Virgin Mary and Christ child and is modeled after the 13th century apse mosaic of the cathedral in Torcello, near Venice. On the south side of the chapel is a depiction of Jesus Christ as judge, holding a bible and giving a blessing, a design developed from 11th and 12th century conventions.

The dome mosaic, representing the creation of the world, was dedicated in 1959. The picture of it below, which is actually of the high altar, is on a Picassa stream that the church's website links to. Likewise the picture to the right, which shows "The Seven Angels." The church website thanked Bob Bowen, Lo Sprague, Nick Cuccia, and Douglas Santo for these photos--there are hundreds. Including--in a last folder titled "The Beauty of St. John's" (or something like that) photos of the mosaics mentioned in that quote above.

"The Seven Angels" mosaic (above) depicts eight-foot high angels with musical instruments. It was dedicated in 1947, but it had already taken over two years for five artists to construct, according to the Los Angeles Times. It was originally imported from Italy to New York, which is where the five artists worked. "The Seven Angels" is a memorial, honoring Florence Martha Quinn, and her family paid $15,000 for it.

In an interesting case of paying it forward--or backward, Mrs. Quinn had donated the money for another mosaic wall many years earlier, to honor her mother.

Another mosaic, The Transfiguration, came in 1964. And there are many more.

I could probably populate Mosaic Monday with individual pieces from this church alone for six months.

I'm going to finish with this last, blindingly stunning photo and I frankly admit that I don't know what part of the church it came from. The Virgin and Child in the center might be the one referred to in the quote--the one modeled on a 13th century mosaic in Torcello. OTOH, if you look at the Picassa photostream, there are closeups of similar mosaics that look more Byzantine in form. The lighting is different but they could be the same. So I will just say again that this is stunning.