Monday, September 29, 2014

St Sophia's Mosaics Circle Dome

St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral is unbelievably ornate, so today I am confining the post to the dome. Artist William Chavalas created the 27-foot wide/long picture of Christ--whose head alone is ten feet tall. Chavalas also designed the stained glass windows.

This particular photo is posted on Flickr by Michael Fletcher, who retains all rights to it.

The amazing thing to realize as you look up is this: See those tiny figures of saints, in between the stained glass windows? See them? Those are actually life-sized mosaic figures. If you were to get up there, you would stand about as high.

Now, the dome is a painting. But those 24 saints that look so tiny are mosaics, They were completed in 1989 by artist Sirio Tonelli, who has since installed Byzantine style mosaics in over 100 churches in the US, including St. Paul's Cathedral in Orange County and St. Sava in San Gabriel, which I blogged about. He also created the double eagle mosaic in St. Sophia's plaza courtyard. I believe he still has his studio in Chicago.

In 1989, the "Procession of Saints" mosaics cost $300,000, and were created in Italy then transported to the US. There's actually only 21 saints, two archangels, and one representation of the "spirit" of Christ. They replaced the paintings of angels that had been there since 1952.

There are incredibly detailed and beautiful pictures of the dome and one of the figures in this photostream by photographer John Gaylord.--this to the right is a partial image. It's all I can find of the mosaics!

Seeing-Stars has a write up on this church, as it was the setting for a wedding on NYPD Blue. In real life (what's that?) it hosted the wedding of the same NYPD Blue star, Sharon Lawrence, as well as the funeral of actor Telly Savalas.

Charles Skouras helped lay the cornerstone to St. Sophia's in 1948  after making it very big in Hollywood--as the head of Fox West Coast and National Theaters. His two brothers (all three were poor immigrants at one time) also found success, Spyros as president of 20th Century Fox for twenty years ending in 1962, and George as head of United Artists Theaters.

No expense was spared on this Byzantine-inspired cathedral. Here's a few sentences from a 2003 article on St. Sophia:

With leaded glass from Belgium, England and Germany; marble from Greece and Italy; 17 over-the-top chandeliers from Czechoslovakia, three of which each weigh a ton; 25,000 pounds of copper on the roof; religious depictions everywhere; a dome rising 90 feet into the air and lots of 24-carat gold leaf; St. Sophia is a very visible symbol of Orthodox faith and a translation of Skouras’ belief in service. Built for approximately $2 million between 1948 and 1952, if built today, costs would exceed $50 million.

When it opened in 1952, the church was situated in LA's Greek neighborhood at Pico and Normandie. Not true now, but the big Greek Festival is still held there every year, and in fact just wrapped  up.

Here is a picture of artist Sirio Tonelli, a fairly recent one. The mosaic he's completing is definitely not from St. Sophia Cathedral, though it could be from St. Paul's out in Irvine. But I don't know--the picture wasn't captioned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Downtown Building Projects and the Hall of Justice

I was going to blog aboaut a mosaic on Monday but my fingertips melted and got stuck to the keys. I managed to knock over a glass of ice to cool and unstick them, but then the ice and water got into the keyboard and you know how that goes.

Making up a more credible story, or making up anything at all, takes too much effort when it's this hot.

However--I did find a splendid list from LA Downtown  News that updates every downtown project you could think of, and then some. Did you know, for example, that the Hall of Justice, so often pictured in Perry Mason, is about to be reopened, twenty years after red-tagging due to the Northridge earthquake? The ribbon-cutting is in three weeks.

Updates on no less than 93 other projects--from Amp Lofts to the Wilshire Grand replacement--are included in the LA Downtown News list.

Did you know further that the Hall of Justice was made of the same stone, from the same quarry, as our City Hall? It is and the stone is Sierra Granite. That tidbit is from D. J. Waldie, who writes at KCET's website that the "inspiration for the hall's tall base and upper stories of columned walls seems to have been the tomb of King Mausoleus at Halicarnassus."

That tomb was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World--it's the one I never remember. Helicarnassus stood in what is now Turkey, but the tomb was destroyed at least 800 years ago. It's middle third (in terms of height) had 36 columns with statues between them--reportedly--and that's the part that may have inspired the design of our Hall of Justice.

No one really knows what it looked like because it's in ruins now. That's one model at left, but there are many more elaborate portrayals.

To me, the building evokes the 1950s, which is silly since it went up in 1926. Blame Raymond Burr.

The KCET article is a fun read, with pictures and a brief history of the building and its famous, though transitory, residents--like Charles Manson, whose holding cell may be a historical attraction when the Hall reopens. Ghosts are mentioned, as are a local whorehouse, and mice that got high from marijuana held in the evidence room of the Sheriff's offices. If that doesn't pique your curiosity nothing will.

County offices--including the Sheriff and the District Attorney will be moving back into the Hall of Justice around the end of the year.

I'm signing off with my name. I've just learned that when this blog goes out to subscribers, the entire post appears in an email. That's great, but since the email does not include the side column showing me or my book (The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories) or picture, or any of the other features there, I was advised that I should at least sign my name so that people associate the post with me. So until next Monday--Adieu from Vickey Kall.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mosaics of Pompeii in L.A.

It rhymes!

Finally made it to the Pompeii exhibit at the California Science Center. And the artifacts from Pompeii--including the ash shells of victims of the volcano--will be in L.A. through the end of the year (until January 4, 2015, to be exact), so there's plenty of time for you to go, too.

And if you go, I strongly urge you to watch this hour-long BBC documentary first. Really, I wish I had--I would have gotten more out of the exhibit. The link goes to the Science Center Pompeii History page--scroll down a bit to the video, titled "Pompeii--A Mystery of People Frozen in Time."

Made only last year, it tells of the latest discoveries about Pompeii, including how those people died in such a way as to leave a shell of their body. I had picked up a lot of misinformation over the years and found this program fascinating.

At the exhibit, you are allowed to take pictures! Seriously, so many places do not allow photos, even with the flash off, and I've never figured out why. The folks at the California Science Center are more enlightened than most, I guess.

And they're all incredibly nice.

This first mosaic is a floor from the villa of Publius Fonnius Synistor, Boscoreale--near Pompeii. It's dated 1st century B.C., and since the eruption that buried everything was  in 79 A.D., it was well over 100 years old then. No dimensions were listed, but it was not large--five or six feet square, I think.

The Pompeii exhibit--except for the very end, after the bordello room--focuses on the everyday found objects that reflect life in a wealthy Roman town of 25,000 people during the first century A.D. Most of the objects are in display cases with little signs identifying what they are; a few have codes for the audio program description so that you get a lot more detail and context.

And the audio program is COMPLIMENTARY. 
Another laudable innovation!

Smallish rooms house the exhibit, and in the corner of each room is a wide-screen TV, mounted and playing in a continual loop some informative trivia that helps us understand the objects in the room. One told us all about the layout of a typical Roman home, for example, with video showing the atrium and impluvium. Another room, loaded with amphora and cooking equipment, used a mural and the video to give us a feel for the commercial food vendors of Pompeii, as well as the enslaved kitchen staff.

The next mosaic is the sign of a fish sauce maker--a very successful fish sauce maker.

Fish sauce was called garum, and I learned that it was pretty much the french fry of the Roman world. Everyone made their own version and sold it (I also learned there were over 300 garum-snack-selling vendors throughout Pompeii, selling from small booths to folks who stood to eat or took their food with them).

The sign next to this mosaic--which is about 12 or 14 inches wide--says that this was one of four mosaics that "decorated the corners of the impluvium in the atrium of the house of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus, Pompeii's leading producer of garum, Scaurus acquired great wealth through making and trading the famous fish sauce.

"The inscription reads: "The flower of Scaurus' mackerel garum from the factory of Scaurus.""

An impluvium was a sunken section of the home's atrium--set in the floor, it sat directly under a roof opening that allowed rainwater to fall and drain in, right into the impluvium-pool. The impluviam could be marble, but it was paved in a way to let the water run out of it, into gravel and eventually into an underground cistern, where the fresh rainwater could then be used for the household.

Since it was raining here in San Pedro an hour ago--the most welcome, beautiful sound in the world--I can't help but wish that I had such an impluvium in my condo.

So if I read this right, these four mosaics were in his house, not his factory or his shop. They weren't advertising, really--the mosaics were more like trophies.

The mosaic is made of white limestone and black slate.

Next up is a table.

I learned that there were no dining rooms in Roman homes--no rooms designated for dining, I mean.

Instead, tables were brought in and positioned next to couches or benches whenever the rich person wanted to eat. Food was laid out on the tables.

There are actually two in this photo--the mosaic table in front, which most have been incredibly heavy, and the wood-topped table behind it. A mural which didn't make it into my photo shows the Roman gentry reclining and eating.

Presumably, there was never any shortage of slaves to move the heaviest tables around.

I just found it fascinating that in Roman homes, rooms really weren't designated for specific purposes (except kitchens, of course). A room was just a big square place whose purpose was determined by the furnishings in it, and those could be moved easily. Sleeping chambers were simply wherever you put the bed, and dressing rooms were where you put the chest of clothes.

Overall, the Pompeii exhibit was well worth seeing. It takes only an hour to go through--and you are right if you read into that time frame that it is not a comprehensive presentation. I could definitely wish for more context--film of the actual excavated city, for example. But the BBC documentary provides that; another reason to watch it before visiting the California Science Center.

The last little mosaic picture was of the California Science Center itself.

I wish I could tell you who designed it and what the reflective tile is made of, but so far I haven't found any information on that. Sorry--maybe this post will be amended later.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ace Hotel and United Artists Theatre--and Schultheis

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times described new tax benefits to owners who restore buildings that are on either the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historic Places. The benefits are mostly for businesses, but some residential buildings could earn their owners tax breaks as well.

It's all very interesting but what really drew me to the piece was this incredibly lovely picture of the 1927  United Artists Theatre, which ran with the editorial. This refurbishment shows how well the new law will work (though it's not in effect yet) because the 1600-seat theater is part of the Ace Hotel complex in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Ace Hotel IS the United Artists Building and Tower. It opened earlier this year (Valentine's Day) at 929 S. Broadway, (or is it 933? I think that's the original address) and preserved all the outward beauty of the building while creating minimalist, functional hotel rooms of varying sizes on the inside, as well as a few meeting venues.

Here's the Ace's theatre website with pictures, info, and a calendar.

Percy Walker and Albert Eisen were the architects of the 1927 building, and they got around some local height restriction ordinances by creating the 50-foot "dummy" tower that still sits atop it.

At the end of this post are some "then and now" photos, the oldest from the Los Angeles Public Library's online photo collection.

From the beginning, most of the offices in the building were leased out to oil companies. First it was California Petroleum Co., then later the building became known as  the Texaco Building. In the 1990s, it was the home of Dr. Gene Scott's University Cathedral.

But this post is focused on the movie theater, not the entire building. Isn't it gorgeous? Divine decadence is the phrase that comes to mind.

The vaulted ceiling--to me, it looks like a dome but the site refers to it as a vaulted ceiling--has thousands of tiny mirrors, and the palace includes a huge (2300 sq ft), ornate lobby.

The new lighting and sound systems are state-of-the-art so that concerts and private presentations can be staged here.

When the interior of the theater was designed by C. Howard Crane, the decor deliberately imitated the 16th century Catholic Cathedral of Segovia, Spain.  You can really see that in the image below left, which accompanied LAWeekly's review of the grand re-opening.

As for the original opening in 1927--the theater's first feature was My Best Girl starring--of course--Mary Pickford, one of the founders of United Artists (along with her husband Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin).

The picture above, btw, came from a 2012 article in the Nomad Lab. There I learned that the 12-story UA building was the city's tallest privately-owned property until 1956.

The 1937 picture below left, with the car in the foreground was taken by Herman J. Schultheis, a gentleman who immigrated to the US from Aachen, German. He came to LA in 1936 after marrying (he was 36--the same age as the century, which makes it easy).  His collection of photographs of his new hometown made in 1937 is now held by our library.

And he lived quite a life.

Schultheis was a PhD'd engineer, but he worked for Walt Disney, in films, He's best know for Snow White, BambiPinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia.

About Fantasia: There's a short documentary about the special effects in that film based on Schultheis' detailed notebooks, and that short is one of the extras on some Fantasia DVDs. The notebook itself is at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, and you can read about it here.

Before Disney, he's worked for all sorts of companies back east as an engineer. After Disney, he went to 20th Century Fox for awhile, the Cal Tech, then to a firm called Librascope (which was eventually folded into Lockheed Martin). At every place, he worked on something different--tweaked some old idea to make it better, or introduced new design concepts. Photography, sound engineering, miniature models, cameras, electronics, printing--he had a broad range of interests.

As an amateur photographer, he went all over the world--and he disappeared in Guatemala on his fourth trip thwew in 1955. He had a plane take him to the ruins at Tikal, but didn't show up at the designated spot for his return trip just a few hours away. His remains were found 18 months later.

Monday, September 1, 2014

City Hall Dome of Beverly Hills--and An Amazing Picture Source!

Last week's Mosaic Monday post featured the tiled dome of a church just outside Beverly Hills. It led a friend to mention to me that the dome atop Beverly Hills City Hall is a mosaic, so why not feature that?

Absolutely. See how beautiful it is?

The tower is eight stories high, of reinforced concrete finished with cement plaster and terra cotta, and is part of the 1932 City Hall designed by William Gage and Harry Koerner. The picture at right was taken late that year (the City Hall opened for business in April, with great fanfare and speeches by Will Rogers and William Collier Sr.) and is from the Water and Power Associates' page.

DIGRESSION: That page has dozens of historic pictures! Of the building of the Griffith Observatory and the Times Building, and :

  • The Orpheum Theatres 1 and 4, as well as the Vogue Theatre

  • The Rancho La Brea (Gilmore) Adobe

  • The Wilshire Tower and Silverwoods, as well as Bob's Air Mail Service Station on Wilshire

  • Pan Pacific Auditorium--inside and out, through the years
  • Little Joe's, the Plaza Church in the 30s, Victorian mansions on Main . . .so much more.

  • The Earl Carroll Theatre, including the showgirls

And that's just maybe half of one page. The Water and Power Associates historical collection is like a museum, except that you don't need to drive anywhere, walk, or pay an entry fee. Wow. I'll go back there for future posts, I promise. End digression.

Now, back to the Beverly Hills City Hall, at 455 N. Rexford Drive.

To quote from the city's webiste

"Architect William Gage created the Spanish Renaissance building in typical government style of that era."

I must pause to snort because the statement sounds--sorry--ridiculous. "That era," if I may be so crass, was the beginning of the Depression. Even if it weren't, the idea of an eight-story tower topped by a gold-trimmed--gold!--cupola being typical of any city anywhere else strains credibility.

Which doesn't mean it isn't beautiful! It absolutely is gorgeous, stunning, and a landmark that the city is rightfully proud of. Just please stop saying it's typical.

In fact, the Los Angeles Times said of the building (back in 1932) that it was "the largest and most costly City Hall of any municipality its size in the country,"

Who actually designed the glazed tile dome? Not sure. W. E. Shephard Co. and Heinsbergen Decorating Co. are listed as the Decorating Contractors, so it may be them (there are separate credits for bronze work, special lighting fixtures, terra cotta work, and terrazzo floors).

By the 1930s, Beverly Hills had become the favored real estate of Hollywood's elite. Pickfair and Greenacres sat there--the homes of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, and of Harold Lloyd, respectively. Such a city would spare no expense for it's municipal buildings! The City Hall, even back then, was part of a Civic Center complex that included the police and fire department headquarters, a library, and gardens designed by Seymour Thomas.

The dome was cleaned and the entire building renovated and brought up to current codes and earthquake standards in the 1980s. Ten years later, a new Civic Center was dedicated, with some new buildings, designed by Charles Willard Moore and his firm, Urban Innovations Group. The expanded gardens and complex include tiled arcades that evoke the dome's patterns. The entire package cost $110 million.

More pictures of the dome and photos of the other City Hall fixtures and features, the ceiling, etc. can be seen on the Just Above Sunset blog.

This last picture (at right) is NOT of the City Hall dome. It's from the SmartMeetings blog, and is credited to Bebe Jacobs.

The photo was taken from and of the Montage Hotel on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills, built in 2008, and shows the impact that the City Hall design has had on the city. The "imitation dome"of that luxury hotel is lovely in its own right, the dome and cupola really more of an homage than a copy of the city's 1932 dome.

In fact, Montage's website claims the hotel was inspired by the Spanish colonial architecture of the area, and is "reminiscent of the Golden Age of California." Montage features a Rooftop Grill with a view of the dome (which is not as tall as City Hall's) as well as roof top pools and cabanas.

A picture at the Ohaha Real Estate page shows both domes in perspective, in golden light.