Category Archives: Architecture

Joan of Art Ghosts The Arts District

Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse Epic                                                                            Essay 5

CWwJoanofart-3.jpgThe Pickle Factory/Citizens Warehouse and Art Dock Demolished Site, February 23, 2019

All that remained of the Citizens Warehouse were the concrete covered brick buttresses of the foundation wall and a masonry nubbin of the Center Street façade obscured behind a Caterpillar Variable Boom Excavator.  The big backhoe is silent and the site empty on a Sunday waiting for Monday to remove and bury the last evidence of the 130-year old pickle factory, paper box plant, storage facility, and artist housing building. The Art Dock with its roll-up metal door, wood freight car bumper, and the piled-up rubber buffer truck fenders are a memory. In a week there will be nothing here but a flat pad of earth ready to be covered with train yards. Another chapter in Los Angeles’ destruction of its history will be closed. Once again in the City of Angels, the evidence of old dreams and their possibilities, will be erased to celebrate the opportunism of now. However, if you’re imaginative, you might see the gold ghost of Joan of Art on her gilded stallion parading across the site, declaring by her heroic presence the bold, vibrant, and innovative creative forces that once were the Downtown LA Art Community.  Like Jeanne D’Arc, the icon of French history, today riding her golden horse near the Louvre, signifying something greater than economics: the human struggle for culture and value in history and in art. The efforts to survive the lucrative real estate deals will go on here in the Arts District.

The Arts District, a node of newness in the abandoned oldness, is dying of its own success. This is an old story, played out in every place artists have colonized as they seek opportunities to live inexpensively and do their imaginative thing. The capitalists buy the land. They know a good investment when they see it. Artists are generally too poor to exploit the conditions they create. The life-stylers seeking genuineness rent a sanitized rendition of the original.  Eviction of the artists begins and the originality is destroyed. Surrounding the vacant nighttime high-rise office core, the center of Angeles is following the same trajectory. Gentrification happens. It is considered good thing for most cities, but the peripheral — the poor, the disfavored minorities, and the artists — are pushed aside. This case of reuse and replacement is changing Los Angeles.  The city that was described as having no center, nor a downtown population, has developed one, but authenticity is the victim. Where there were no Starbucks, no classy restaurants, fancy retailers, or big-name art galleries, the chic and the similar are appearing. Before it was the Atomic Café with its drug addled waiter; Vickman’s, where produce market truck unloaders, politicians, and artists, mixed for lunch in the cafeteria lines served by surly waitresses; Al’s Bar, a graffiti-plastered hole in the wall in the railroad era African-American friendly American Hotel poured beer for bohemian artists and punk rock bands; the original Hardrock Bar edged to Skid Row, which harbored bikers, the rootless, and transvestites; and the homeless, often naked, mined the dumpsters.  There wasn’t much else, but an alternative ethos flourished in the shadows.

The Citizens Warehouse was one of principal locations of the original illegal art community.  The prohibition of living and working in old warehouses and factories gave the community a social edge. Almost every form of contrary behavior was allowed by a political blind eye except habitation. When a law enforcement raid was anticipated the beds went to Venice or were obscured beneath ping pong tables. Performance art occurred in the lofts and streets. A female artist lay on a bed in a scruffy unmarked venue surrounded by six-foot walls and invited the attending artists to climb over the wall and have sex with her. Only a few had the courage to lever over the barrier.  From a crane, an artist dropped a ton of bricks on a mocked-up typical American bedroom. These actions were never done with approved city permits. Near the Art Dock on a ruined freight platform, Ulysses Jenkins created his outdoor event “Without Your Interpretation,” illuminated by parked car headlights and drawing the power for the musical instruments from one outlet within the warehouse.  The commotion drew the police, who threatened to arrest the artist. Ulysses, standing on the concrete podium in his pajamas, explained to a patrol officer that what was happening was art. The police drove away.

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Frame from the video, ”Without Your Interpretation,” by Ulysses Jenkins

Female artists, seeking a place where the male art community wasn’t predominant, flocked to the secret buildings east and south of Alameda and Little Tokyo. They were the backbone of the community.  Working straight jobs in the Asian restaurants, bartending in Al’s Bar and a few of the other seedy liquor joints, and operating fork lifts in the markets, they could afford the cheap rents and big spaces the soon-to-be Arts District provided. A few had fancier jobs, but all came home to rough living. The legend of the two female artists confronted on a dimly lit street and accused of prostitution by the police, whom they backed down by declaring demonstratively they were artists and lived here, was the shared story of occupying this forbidding zone. In this unrecognized area the Woman’s Building appeared featuring feminists: Sheila De Bretteville, Judy Chicago, Rachel Rosenthal, and many other notable women artists.

The Young Turks, the initial group of the artists to establish a community in area around Traction Avenue, Hewitt Street, and Third Street, which included entrepreneur, artist, and impresario of Al’s Bar, Marc Kreisel; Stephen Seemayer, performance artist and film maker; Andy Wilf, the painter and artist, who gained the first notoriety for the Downtown Arts Community, by his recognition as a young talent from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and his subsequent death by a drug overdose, also included three significant female artists. These pioneers were: Linda Burnham, poet, multi-discipline artist, and founder of Exile Gallery, and the magazine, High Performance, the preeminent voice of Performance Art on the West Coast; Monique Safford, word and image collage artist; and Coleen Sterritt, sculptor, whose work with sharpened stakes created an instability and a threatening tension, which confronted the attitude of the art world toward women.  Sterritt states in the film the Young Turks, “People…when I tell them that I’m an artist, or that I’m in downtown, ………, they immediately don’t take me seriously, or if they do, it’s like I paint pink pastel paintings or something.”

Downtown didn’t attract pink pastel painters. It drew women who were tough, resilient, and insightful. The Citizens Warehouse and the Art Dock were havens for women like this. I remark on two, whose strength and leadership saved the Citizens Warehouse artist community, and a third, Monique Safford, an Art Dock exhibitor.  When the law allowing artist to live in warehouses and factories was passed, a developer bought the building and the leases had to be renegotiated. The artists faced significant rent increases, which potently would drive them out.  Ellen Fitzpatrick, dancer and sitar player, had a day job in the corporate offices of Mattel Toys. To build her space, Ellen, returning from work, dressed in flowing designer clothes, would buff her maple floor with a large industrial sized circular sander.  Ellen and Karen Kristin, fine artist, who made her living as a sky painter in Hollywood and casino malls like the Venetian in Las Vegas, became the force behind a tenants’ association. They found a willing lawyer, directed his efforts, and marshalled all the artists together in an unbreakable coalition to keep the rents low. For five additional years the Citizens Warehouse remained an affordable loft location, while others started to fall to sale and skyrocketing rents. In 1990, the low-cost reality ended, as it pretty well had ended everywhere else in the Arts District. Complete Gentrification took another 10 to 15 years. Only a few determined survivors remain.

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Karen Kristin at the Citizens Warehouse, 1981

The fate of the Arts District was forecast and protested in the installation in the Art Dock by the self-described “Romantic Pessimist” Monique Safford. Within the 10 foot by 10-foot doorway of the Art Dock, Monique placed a huge photographic transparent image that she had salvaged from the trash bin outside a public advertising venue. The picture was a land and sea scape of the last illumination after the sunset. Inscribed over the photograph were the words “Less Ennui in ’83.” Only seen at night, as was often the case with Art Dock installations, the piece was haunting and beautiful. Situated in the dark part of town where poor street lighting and un-lit structures were the norm, “Less Ennui” glowed.  The aesthetic statement in the façade of an old brick warehouse, whose other openings were mainly small windows illuminated by artists at work in their studios, was at once a marvel of and a warning for the artist community.  1983 passed with minimal ennui.  The community dramatically rose and gradually shrank. Monique Safford moved to New York. Linda Burnham and Karen Kristen moved out of state. Ellen Fitzpatrick disappeared. The Citizens Warehouse is demolished. Let us not grieve in vain. Let us not give in to total weariness. Joan of Art is still around to inspire. Less Ennui in 2123.

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Less Ennui in’83 by Monique Safford

 

 

 

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 A Gold Mine of Myths in the District of Vats, Docks, and Deals

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Loft112CenterSt.2psConstruction of the Art Dock loft, 1980

All the stories concerning the loss of Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse verge on fiction. They project a history that if not yet, soon will be fantasy. Reading the various reports and opinions, I found myself laughing, but not because they were funny, rather because they implied attributes to the Arts District, the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, and the Art Dock that weren’t real. As Sabrina Nucciarone, paraphrasing the writers of the movie “La La Land,” states in her letter to Metro protesting the proposed demolition of the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, “Los Angeles…is the city that worships everything and values nothing.”  The statement is basically correct but misses what Los Angeles worships most and values the greatest: box office. To put it another way, profit. The path that leads to the gold mine starts by instilling myths in events, places, and populations. Myths are useful in many ways. They enhance economic value. They foster illusions that can be exploited. They fashion qualities that are best when sanitized and normalized. Creativity is a prime example. I see the blockbuster film, “Springtime for The Arts District,” coming soon, giving the audience tragedy, the fire in the warehouse, and resurrection by the intrepid artists.  Maybe it’s a musical like “LA LA Land.”

The path starts with small inaccuracies: the Arts District as powerful cultural force about to be destroyed, the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse as the first building to become artists’ lofts in Downtown, and the Art Dock as an innovative artists’ collective, the first drive-through art gallery. All three of these ideas are fabrications. The Art Dock was neither an artists’ collective, nor a drive-through art gallery. I ought to know — I started and ran it. I started it as a joke.  The joke took on a life of its own. Never was it a collective, which is a description that implies group control and perhaps aesthetics.  To be a drive-through gallery was an impossibility. A vehicle would have to use my studio as a passageway. The gallery, if you stretched the word enough, was drive-by, more like a sign, a billboard, or a creche, like a lawn display, Jesus’ birth in the manger with the three kings standing worshipping the baby. The only way I could get official recognition of one installation was to say to the City that a sukkah created in the loading dock was a holiday installation. The definition allowed me to keep open the installation and not fireproof the dry stakes surrounding a hammock.

Succoh 3psMargaritaville, a sukkah by Miles Forst, Art Dock, fall 1982

The Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse was definitely not the first warehouse or building in the Arts District to become artist lofts. In actuality, the building was never in the fuzzy boundaries of the Arts District as defined by the City of Los Angeles. Rather the structure was converted in a second surge after a first band of artists discovered that the cheap often-vacant structures could be rented or held through master leases. Part of the group called themselves the Young Turks. They began the swell. The artists included: Marc Kreisel, John Peterson, Steven Seemayer, Linda Burnham, and others. Marc Kreisel was the impresario of Al’s Bar, a run-down hang out that more than any other place defined the Bohemian flavor of the area. He. along with other artists, and some fearless investors bought the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse for not much and rented out spaces to other artists willing to risk building out a space in the building without permits for an illegal use. John Peterson, painter and sculptor, gained media attention at the time through creation of bum shelters that he placed in the district.  With wit about housing and a sense for profit, John and a partner similarly was able to buy another building and lease it out to other artists. His building also lay outside the boundary of the Arts District. What was and still is the Arts District remains without an actual limit.

Bum shelters-1psLos Angeles, Bum Shelter #4, 1979 by John Peterson

 If there is a definable first artists’ building in the Arts District, it is the American Hotel. The American was a shabby tiny railroad-related hotel that began as the only place African-Americans could rent a room. The hotel was the overnight place rail conductors and porters were welcome in racist Los Angeles. This little three-story structure with small rooms and toilets down the hall was the place artists seeking space in the warehouse district found rooms to explore and find more permanent studios. Many artists stayed in the hotel making it their home. Stephen Seemayer, artist and filmmaker, with his wife Pamela Wilson, who lived in the American and tended bar in its drinking establishment, have told the hotel’s story in their film “Tales of the American” www.talesoftheamerican.com. This was where the gritty American Los Angeles Bohemian Arts District began, and where it will die, if it hasn’t already. The American Hotel has been refurbished into a boutique hotel. One night in the hotel costs $150. In 1980 you could probably stay in the hotel for a month for $150.

AmericanHotelexin-1psRefurbished American Hotel, Arts District, Los Angeles, 2019

The Arts District is a place without an association with any art movement, without an edge, and without definition. Arts District is an advertisement providing the area with cachet.  The area east of Alameda, west of the Los Angeles River, south from 1st Street, and with some vague outline around 7th Street, has no buildings in it other than the American Hotel that are essential to its definition. No Left Bank of Paris with its avant-garde Impressionism or Cubism define it. No Greenwich Village or Soho of New York with its Abstract Expressionism or Pop Art make it essential to a certain cultural expression. The Arts District could be said to be the center of 1970s-1980s Performance Art. Linda Burnham, the poet and founder of High Performance magazine, and Rachel Rosenthal, the startling artist who appeared often enough with her rat, Tattywaffles, on her head, and started Espace DBD, lived in the district, but the association is tangential as Performance Art erupted all over the city at the time.

The Arts District came into existence though the diligence of one man, Joel Bloom, who established the artists’ convenience store. His store was in the American Hotel, and he was a committed promoter of the community. Nonetheless the Arts District had already changed by the time he appeared. Bohemia was fast disappearing. Artists were becoming more a poorly paid professional class, and the developers had moved in. Rents were escalating. Alternative galleries were beginning to disappear, and restaurants were established. No one complained at first. At the very least, you could go out to dinner in the neighborhood, even if the best thing was octopus ink noodles with shrimp. When the trend toward gentrification became a tidal wave, protests began. The artists were being driven from the zone they had established. Martyrdom was declared. The situation brings to mind the myth of Jeanne D’Arc, the saintly heroine of the French resistance to the English occupation, whom noble collaborators burned at the stake in 1456.

The last article in this series is titled “Joan of Art” and looks at what the Downtown LA Art Community as expressed by the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse and the Art Dock signified.

 

 

 

 

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Pickle Works/ Citizens Warehouse Epic

This is the third of five articles about the 130 year old Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, an artist loft building demolished in January 2019 after a fire in November 2018

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Burned at the Stake – Holders

cw-1jpgThe Burned Citizens Warehouse, November 9, 2018, with Firefighter outside The Art Dock

The Citizens Warehouse went up in flames two weeks after it was saved. “Why did it burn?” the fire chief was asked, “Was it arson?” “Not likely,” the chief replied. “Homeless people have been setting fires inside for a long time. The blaze was probably caused by them trying to cook within and heat their squat against the cold.”  I was suspicious.  If fire wasn’t caused deliberately, it certainly fit the description of a purposeful calculation.  Could it have been arson by neglect?  I thought about my previous visit to the boarded-up artist studios.

My belief that the building was vacant when it was locked up in un-openable steel barriers was erroneous.  I let the impression of an empty building buttoned up in forbidding grillwork, and further marked with warning signs that any trespass or even parking on the street would be prosecuted, led me to a visual conclusion that the pull down was intended and purposeful.  I didn’t acknowledge what I had seen and hadn’t accounted for.   The Potemkin-like prison presented to the public street obscured a breach that hid behind. The fire chief’s assessment of a random blaze, not arson, caused me to reconsider an alternative conclusion.

After the release of the DEIR for public comment, I made a final visit to say goodbye to the home of the Art Dock, which had a pivotal role in my life as an artist.  The demolition of the barricaded structure seemed inevitable. The formidable steel coverings over every window, door, and loading dock along Center Street screamed the warehouse’s planned elimination, but I overlooked a jarring visible piece of evidence.

Going around the end of the structure to the rear façade, I saw a flimsy chain link fence with no gate or lock.  A filthy green sheet and worn paisley coverlet were draped over the barbed wire on the fence top.  Hesitating for a moment to see if a down-and-out inhabitant might confront me, I stepped inside the barrier. Along the façade I could see that no provision had been made to seal up the openings. The width of the space between the wall and a second chain link fence that defined the existing rail lines was narrow, perhaps just ten feet wide. The area was strewn with mattresses, soiled clothes, abandoned shoes, boxes, and assorted wrecked possessions.  I was within a sizable but linear homeless encampment. There was no one in the camp. It was creepy. I backed out.  Peering across the empty space, which once was the south end of the Citizens Warehouse, I could clearly see a guardhouse at the primary access to Metro’s existing yards and shops beyond the First Street Bridge.  Situated in the shade of the overhead structure, the guardhouse was occupied.  The occupant could see anyone enter this homeless zone.  He looked at me; I looked at him. He stood and started to emerge from the hut. I scurried away and forgot about what I had seen.

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              Homeless Encampment Behind the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, 2018

24 hours a day, a security guard can watch people meandering along the street, and their comings and goings into the encampment behind the building. Anyone entering could be reported and driven away. They obviously weren’t.  Putting together what was revealed on the site, what the approved plan described, and the timing of the destructive blaze that turned the historic context to ash, I came to the opinion that what had transpired was a brilliant solution to the trouble that would soon appear.  The homeless residents provided a convenient scapegoat for the demolition of the envisioned   preservation project, which I thought was doomed to failure from the first demolition event in 2007.  The fire could be attributed to their careless inhabitation. Arson need not investigated.  No conspiracy is provable; however, the blaze provides Metro with what it really desired.

My assessment is based on these factors.  Allowing the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse to be accessible from behind made the site vulnerable to occupation by homeless people. These uprooted often mentally ill people can be relied upon to create havoc in an inadequately policed building. The approved plan called for preservation of a very diminished structure. The extent of demolition would leave only a small remnant of the once long and large warehouse.  Finding a funder willing to undertake the many improvements needed to make a viable project of the segment remaining would be very difficult. Efforts to locate a developer or institutional buyer were unsuccessful before, when there was more building available. After Metro sawed off the south end of the building, the project’s financial viability became nearly nil.  For this preservation project to be profitable was a long shot at best. In the revised environmental impact plan Metro committed itself to protect and preserve the materials that defined the vernacular construction, if an appropriate developer or institutional owner could be found.  The fire destroyed that possibility and most of the historic material. The wood column, beams, and flooring were incinerated. All that remained was the masonry shell that enclosed the interior. The masonry, contrary to claims of its importance, was pretty ordinary stuff. In my opinion, the fire cleared the site giving the Metro planners what they originally wanted, a large rail storage yard.  In January 2019, Metro began total demolition of the structure.  As of January 21, most of the structure was demolished. The Art Dock was gone. The bricks and the charred interior wood were being shoveled into a trash hauling trailer.

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Demolition of The Citizens Warehouse as of January 22, 2019

I am not surprised by what took place.  A restoration/preservation project could never be built profitably on the ruins, but I didn’t take into consideration the tenacity of the local arts community.  They had an agreement with the city and Metro to utilize the part of the site that they had agreed to relinquish in the revised DEIR for community use.  They propose holding the stakeholders to their commitment. The properties across the street from demolished building are for sale. If these properties are combined with the area of the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse slated for reuse, a large site for artist space can be assembled. This site, including air rights over the ruins, might make a profitable development, that could include affordable artist housing and community uses. Evidence that the affected parties are considering the deal is reflected in stockpiled bricks and salvaged wood beams in the hole in the ground where the vats once were.  The concept is not a done deal.  Attempts to create affordable artist spaces have been proposed in the past, to not avail, but a new Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse provides hope that Arts District will actually include artists in the future.

What I find interesting at this point is how the fire was reported, and how that reporting speaks to the demise of the downtown art community as it was and how it reflects what it is today and will become in the future. This is the subject of the next article, “Making Myth of the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse and the Art Dock.”

 

 

 

 

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Pickle Works/ Citizens Warehouse Epic

This is the second of five articles about the 130 year old Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, an artist loft building demolished in January 2019 after a fire in November 2018

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Saved by the Vats

The artists living in the Citizens Warehouse never understood what the huge vats were in the building’s basement. The illegal artist community was more amazed that anyone would rent the low-ceilinged space, where a grid of channels surrounding pedestal-mounted large redwood columns spaced about 14 feet on centers ran between the thick brick foundation walls.  In the warehouse’s center on the area’s south edge the channels ended at the pits. The channels were valleys in which a tall person could stand upright next to flat concrete surfaces that provided only a height of five-plus feet to the ceiling joists. Only short people could occupy this huge space; and this was possible for the artist, his French wife, and their four-year old son, Will. Using big black plastic tarps, the family partitioned off the vats and subdivided the rat-shared space for living and working.

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Will in the Basement of the Citizens Warehouse, 1980

The artist was paying three cents per square foot for 4,000 square feet ($120 per month), but the family didn’t last long in the basement. For maybe a year, they toughed it out. The shared inhabitants were noisy and fast, darting across the studio at all hours of the day.  The basement didn’t provide light and ventilation for the artist’s fabrication of painted vacuum-formed 5-foot-tall half penguins. The artist, family, and penguins moved to Hollywood. Another artist tried to construct an airplane in the part of the basement next to the bridge, but fire inspectors ended that project when they uncovered flammable paint. The artist and his homemade flying machine were evicted. For most of the Artist in Residence (AIR) history the basement was a place where artists stacked their unsold works.

A building with a basement is a rare phenomenon in Los Angeles. This partially subterranean space with small clerestory windows that provided a soft dull light around the perimeter. I humorously referred to the area as a weird columbarium, where the anonymous were buried beneath the higher platform grids above the valley paths. The brick tubs could have been where the dead were washed. No one in the art community knew these vats were employed to ferment cucumbers into pickles until the LA Conservancy, in its effort to preserve and prevent the south end of this prime example of vanishing Victorian era vernacular industrial architecture with hand hewn redwood square columns and beams covered with milled maple flooring, identified the building as the Pickle Works.

When the first section of the building was constructed in 1888, it was called the “California Vinegar and Pickle Company.”  The spot was ideally situated next to the cucumber fields of the Los Angeles pueblo and river, not far from the ocean with its infinite supply of required salty brine for pickling, and conveniently located along the new railroads for transportation of fermented pickles. As the city grew and the railroad expanded, the Pickle Works grew.  In 1905 and again in 1909, the building was elongated, a second story was added, and it changed use. Pickle-making ended, and the building became a paper box-making plant employing 200 people.

As the years past, the building then became a storage facility. The Pickle Factory became the Citizens Warehouse. Finally, in the late 1970s the empty structure became artist housing. In 2005, the Pickle Works Building was determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a rare-for-Los-Angeles surviving 117-year old brick industrial building.  In 2006, The Library of Congress described and made a photographic survey of the structure. The black and white photographs showed the unique character of the building, then occupied by the downtown art community.

Yet registration as a historic place didn’t take place.  The City of Los Angeles bought the building, evicted the artists, and demolished the southern 75 feet for construction of the Gold Line expansion into East Los Angeles, and the widening of the First Street Bridge to accommodate the light rail line down the center of the bridge. The initial proposal called for only 35 feet to be destroyed, but that number was increased to allow for a construction staging area.  Pressured by the art community, the City agreed to resurface the lopped-off end and seek a developer to restore what was left. It didn’t happen. For ten years the warehouse remained vacant as the Los Angeles Conservancy and the art community struggled to find an investor to restore and reuse the Citizens Warehouse. Community advocates finally got the reluctant City to fulfill its promise to refinish the eyesore plywood-surfaced south elevation. The effort was a pathetic parody of phony windows and shutters made of thin sheet metal pinned to the façade. The sheet metal distorted and twisted exposed to the sun.

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         South Wall of the Citizens Warehouse before and after Restoration

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Draft Environment Impact Report (DEIR) released for public comment in March 2018 called for total demolition of the remaining part of the warehouse. The authority’s planners stated the warehouse area was needed for storage of rail cars for the Red and Purple Lines. During the allotted time for public comment, the MTA received 49 comments regarding the project’s plan. The majority of the comments were about the intended destruction of the Pickle Works aka the Citizens Warehouse. The preservationists reiterated the arguments for keeping the building because of its construction character and it long 130-year history.  Judith Randall in an email, April 27, 2018 wrote:

“How could anyone even think of demolishing a structure called the Pickle Works Building? From its vintage shutters still proudly adorning the windows after all these years to its rough knobby stucco walls and its floors worn down from the souls of boots of workers who couldn’t possibly conceive of today’s electronic age.  And that is why preserving as much of Pickle Works Building is so vital to our connection to the past. Its not just Los Angeles history, it’s hanging onto and protecting the innocence of that period when things were so much more on the human side.”

 The importance of the Pickle Works to the culture of Los Angeles was referenced in several comments. Artist George Herms lived in the structure, Paul McCarthy exhibited there, and Michael Blake, the author of “Dances with Wolves,” frequently visited the building to shower, since the abandoned gas station, now gone, where he resided was nearby. Adrian Scott Fine, Director of Advocacy for the LA Conservancy, wrote a long letter in support of saving the building. He states, mentioning the artist and writer of these comments:

“By the 1970s, the building was known as the Citizens Warehouse. As is typical of buildings in this district, this one was left vacant as a manufacturing moved out of the center city. The large, empty spaces were ideal for artists, who bought the building and rented out space to other artists for studios. Citizens Warehouse, … has a particularly noteworthy connection to the Arts District. It was the location of the Art Dock, an ever-changing feature of the neighborhood from 1980 to 1986, in which local artist Carlton Davis used the loading dock of his rented portion of the building as an innovative drive-up gallery space.”

The effort to save the warehouse was successful. The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) was altered to preserve part of the building, and on October 25, 2018, the report was accepted by the Metro Transportation Authority’s Board. The report’s Mitigation Measure CR-3 was “expanded to not only protect and preserve portions of the building not needed for the proposed project, but to also preserve the opportunity to restore portions that were removed by a prior project.” The qualifiers are important to note in this decision.

The Metro team also concluded that the location of the storage yard and the geometry required to connect the tracks made it infeasible to avoid demolition of the warehouse’s east wall. Metro would saw-cut through the first floor, second floor and roof along the eastern and northern sides of the structure. They would salvage and store the original materials to rebuild the previously-demolished 75 feet of structure, if the reconstruction were proven to be financially viable, and an appropriate use could be found that meets the approval of the local community.

The usable space remaining to this lopped and sliced off building would be minimal compared to what it originally was — just 26, 000 square feet would be left or recreated on three levels: a second floor, first floor, and an uninhabitable basement, which conceivably would still include the vats. Finding an entity to invest in such a bastardized building would be difficult. The preservation and restoration project for the Citizens Warehouse sounded good. Everyone celebrated a community and preservationist victory, but the win was Pyrrhic, more elusive than feasible and more a feel-good political stunt than good faith possibility. Sabrina Nucciarone summarized her take in an email comment dated April 27, 2018 regarding the Pickle Works Building:

“In the words of the writers of the movie La La Land, Los Angeles has the long-suffering personality of being the city that “worships everything and values nothing.”  It is a long-standing joke even in commentaries in movies, television, shows, and documentaries. Don’t be the one that says, “Tear it down.”cwdemo&vats011319 copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Michelangelo’s Twisted Light of Day & Secret Shadow of Night

“The world has many kings, but only one Michelangelo”

In 1537, Pietro Aretino, poet, critic, and public relations advocate, offered his alliance to the artist in a letter. Michelangelo, irascible and often uncommunicative, gave a brief cordial reply declining the offer. Michelangelo never worked with others as an equal. Michelangelo was an independent contractor with higher aspirations than his class. Aretino was perhaps the first to the declare an artist to have powers that “rivaled those of God.” Michelangelo acted as if he were the equal of God’s emissary of earth, Pope Clement VII. The pope, a Medici whose noble family ruled Florence off and on during the 16th century, conversed frequently with the artist, a tradesman, whose social status was far beneath the Roman Catholic Church’s leader. Cardinals and kings thought the familiarity unwise. Aretino created the myth of supreme artistic genius.

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Pope Clement VII, by Sebastiano del Piombo, before 1527

satin DProbably using a contract specifying a cost and a time limit, Pope Clement IV engaged Michelangelo to carve tombs in Florence’s San Lorenzo Basilica to commemorate the two of the Medici family’s lesser members: Lorenzo II, Duke of Urerbino, and Giuliano de Medici, Duke of Nemours. For ten years, 1524–1534, Michelangelo labored, delayed, complained, and controlled the fabrication of the project down to the smallest detail. The pope grumbled he wished the artist would pay a bit more attention to the jobs the pope had given him. Michelangelo’s enemies said of him that he never completed anything while monopolizing the best projects for himself and never used the assistance of others. The wall tomb for the Duke of Nemours was never finished.

The tomb is a powerful composition, oddly discordant, yet imbued with energy at once distinctive to the artist and evocative of his client’s family’s authority. The sculpture, Day, is male with a highly polished body, but its head, partly obscured behind a mammoth shoulder, appears roughly chiseled and unfinished, contrasting with Night, a polished female with a rather masculine body whose breasts seem strangely appended. Day is twisted backward in tension, and coiled in frustration, perchance a partial statement of the artist’s outer persona. Night is bent and turned forward in melancholy, and stilled by grief, perhaps capturing the artist’s hidden homosexuality layered under a spoken spirituality that contemplates death, the tortured fate of sodomites. Day, the time of light, is turned away from illumination, and Night, the time of dark, is turned toward the shadows. Both sculptures, balanced at the two ends of the sarcophagus, appear to be sliding off its bowed surface, while the figure above seems unengaged and remote to what is below.

The figure above that stands for the Duke. This sculpture embodies the glory and authority of Rome, which the Medici’s saw as their heritage. Obliged by agreement to glorify the powerful family, the artist composed a vault that incorporates a duality. The duke doesn’t look like the duke and isn’t dressed like the duke. Michelangelo recreates a heroic leader with his sword balanced across his knees and expressing a gaze of disinterest. He turned Guiliano de Medici into a type. A writer later remarked the artist gave the duke “a size, proportion and beauty,” because “in a thousand years nobody would know they had been different.” The artist fashioned a dynamic assembly of contradictions that are a testament to his own genius. Michelangelo will be known forever, the Medici dukes will fade in an obscure past. The artist accomplished his aspiration to be more than the ruling aristocracy. The Medici Tomb, along with the Pieta, David, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the Last Judgment, marks the artist’s place among the gods of art.

Medici Tomb by Michelangelo

Tomb of Giuliani de Medici, Duke of Nemours, by Michelangelo

in San Lorenzo Basilica Florence, 1524 – 1534

Artists like Michelangelo’s acclaimed challengers — Leonardo Da Vinci, Raffaello Santi (Raphael), and Sebastiano del Piombo — were highly paid employees for their work with brush, mallet, and chisel by the rulers in France, Spain, Florence, and the Papal States. Their jobs were to legitimize the rulers. The dukes, the kings, and the popes needed portraits, tombs, glorifying sculptures, libraries, and residences to reflect their status and make them comparable to the Roman ancestors. They needed art that made them heroes and that gave them metaphors immersed with Christian theology. The artists made visible the power, glory, and ethics of the age. This is what artists did long before the Renaissance. This role extended back in time to the Romans, Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, and to the dawn of human hierarchies. In the distant past only a few had identities. Many weren’t even free. They were slaves doing the bidding of rulers who were often the religious elite. The Renaissance artist rattled the role, but they didn’t break it.

Three centuries would pass before the subservient position of the artists changed, and it only changed in means, not in value. The French monarch in1648 established the French Academy to control cultural production for the benefit of the crown. The concept was to insure that art in terms of its content and its quality serve the sovereign’s power equal to its political dominance. Neo-classicism founded on the veneration of Greeks and Romans became the prevailing style. “Theth of Horatii,” 1784, by Jacques-Louis David is a telling example. The British crown not to be out done by the French, established the Royal Academy. Portraits of distinguished nobility became the English obsession. Thomas Gainsborough’s 1777, Portrait of Anne, Countess of Chesterfield, 1777, comes to mind. Academies in Vienna, Berlin, Stockholm, Madrid, and St. Petersburg follow. Painting and sculpture supported the values of the upper classes. In America, The Philadelphia Academy of Art was founded in 1805. Its goal was to promote the Odemocratic values of the new democracy. This ideal faded by the late 19th Century, when the Robber Barons sought cultural validity through acquisition of the aristocratic approved art.

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Oath of Horatii, 1784, David, Louvre, Paris

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Gainsborough, 1777, Portrait of Anne

The only blip to national academy dominance of art production was the French Revolution, where the royals died by the guillotine. The revolutionaries declared the elite arts to be of no use to the nation. This verdict didn’t last long. Napoleon, quickly learning the importance of the arts in supporting a regime, reversed the situation. Not until artists established an individual status often connected to alternative political philosophies did the situation start to alter. In France, it was Realism, whose two champions Millet and Courbet rocked the arts establishment. Courbet, a political radical with a supreme ego, formulated the concept of “Realism,” which others philosophers, poets, and writers gave intellectual heft. The artist stated, “Realism would not imitate the art of ancients.” Realism would “represent the customs, ideas,” and “the appearance of my own era according to my own valuation.”

Gustav Courbet, like Michelangelo, saw himself the equal if not superior to his aristocratic clients. His painting “The Meeting,” 1855, is an excellent example of both the artist’s realism and his egoism. On a country road, the artist is greeted by his patron, Alfred Bruyas, and his servant Calas. The servant bows his head to the great artist, while Bruyas, doffs his hat. The artist, dressed like a workingman with his painting supplies hung off his back, accepts the adulation with head raised in a regal pose. Bruyas, son of a wealthy financier, had a 30-year career as a serious collector of art, and he believed art could change lives and promote social progress. He championed Courbet, who fancied himself a rebel against the prevailing concepts of art and the aristocratic rulers of France. Courbet refused to accept the Legion of Honor award from Emperor Napoleon III. His fame and his wealth came from the patronage he viewed as inferior to his genius.

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Courbet, 1855, The Meeting, Musee Fabre, Montpellier

When Paris became the socialist commune in 1871, after France’s loss to Prussia, Courbet joined the communards and proposed a significant role for artists, in which they would participate in the running of and selecting exhibitions for Paris’s public museums. The fine arts section of the Institute of France and the French Academy would be closed. Metals and decorations would be abolished. Artists have not been the clearest thinkers about management or governance. The plan for artists’ control of the French art institutions quickly broke down. The commune didn’t last long and Courbet paid a heavy price for his involvement. He was briefly imprisoned and accused of initiating the destruction of the Napoleonic Column in Place Vendome, for which the new right wing state demanded that he pay the price for its reconstruction. The artist escaped into exile in Switzerland. The artist inflated to enormous size by disappointments of his fortune, died a drunk. In his characteristic self-important manner, Courbet claimed he was the foremost drinker in the Canton of Vaux, Switzerland. He colluded in the fraudulent creation of paintings by others that he signed. His reputation was vastly diminished.

The contradiction of his political views and the reality of his situation as a supplier of luxury objects for the rich and the nobility never troubled his conscience. He considered himself a great artist beyond the ordinary human. Current art historians and subsequPlaent collectors, especially American capitalists of the late 19th century, have honored that assessment. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York abounds in Courbet paintings. Many of the landscapes are marvelous. The world of legitimized art returned to its prior status. Yet Courbet began the great shock of Modernism that ended the culture academies when the next generation of artists — the Impressionists, and Post-Impressionists — demolished classicism, romanticism, and realism with a new way of seeing. They ended the old context, but not the reigning social value of art.

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Gustave Courbet, Artist, 1819-1877

Art of that Day, like Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture, squirmed in a new light revealed in a transient, engaging, enticing, and ultimately very accessible way to the minimally visually knowledgeable, while the late 19th century Night, like Michelangelo’s enigmatic creation, remained the veiled, but unspoken force as it has always been. The luxury product held by the elite, which expresses their cultural hegemony. Look for Article Three in the art and economics series: Cezanne to Warhol – Pissing in the Photo Booth.

 

 

 

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Article, Courbet, Jacques Louis David, Michelangelo, Thomas Gainsbourgh

The Collapsed American Republic

Thomas Jefferson worried that the new American Republic would collapse. Eighteenth Century political theorists thought that republics were prone to failure when predatory powers overwhelmed the democratic state and its citizens lacked the interest to sustain liberty. His fear has come true. Tremendously unequal wealth and corporate capitalism have corrupted the United States. The buffoon, President Donald Trump, is the figurehead for what has already come true. He is the TV personality who, like in the movie “Network,” has become the lightning rod for hatred and dissent that deflects our attention from what has actually happened. When the power elites have subdued the population completely, they will jettison this idiot, but their power will be supreme unless Armageddon or revolution changes the situation.

Television is saturated by ads for drugs and for technology that neither improves the quality of life nor increases awareness of what is really transpiring. The watcher is narcotized in front of the boob tube for hours on end. The news is not fake as claimed by screaming president; it merely isn’t news. What it represents is a conscious regurgitation of endless irrelevant positions deflecting attention away from reality. Huge capitalist corporations own almost all sectors of the economy, and they serve the hidden rich and the financial manipulators. From the food consumed to the clothing worn, there is hardly any local supply. There is some, but it has an artisanal quality that is not significant to the overall economy. American cities are a mess. Look at the smaller towns like Terre Haute, Indiana, or Grand Island, Nebraska. They have dying and half-demolished downtowns, while strips of fast food joints, chain restaurants, and chain stores line their entry and departure routes. Much of the old housing is dilapidated, even burned out, while the development of apartments and too-expensive homes in outlying suburbs empties the pockets of a diminishing working class. Or take a new development city like Temecula, California, an endless string of commercial development with low paying jobs interspersed with undistinguished single family homes where the teenagers are so bored they are addicted or stoned. Their parents use up their days in unrelieved auto jams to afford this American dream; or is it a nightmare?

The land no longer supports the independent farmers Jefferson saw as the backbone and sustenance of the American republic. Farms are now corporate entities funneling the corn, the cotton, and the hay to other corporate entities. Jobs in industry are not coming back to the American Rust Belt, as the demagogue promises. Why would they leave lower wage countries like China and others in Southeast Asia to put up with the demands for a middle class wage? What is coming and will continue to come are low wage jobs in warehouses for forklift operators to whom no union benefits or pensions will accrue. Careless capitalists like the Koch Brothers, whose concern is only for profit and despise regulation that would preserve the planet, own the mineral wealth. What interest do they have in climate change? None – for them the land is not to be cherished but is merely a commodity to be exploited. The Indians and the environmentalists are not focused on what is worthwhile to these capitalists. Only money matters.

Exxon Mobil’s CEO is now Secretary of State. He’s there to seize the world’s oil resources. The senator from Oklahoma will gut or close the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). He will kill the Standing Rock Indians without mercy. Sacred lands mean nothing to the success generated by more imported fuel. More corporate billionaires fill out the criminal developer’s cabinet. They will attempt to ensure the American hegemony of international capitalism that has won the globe and will continue to foment racism that is on the rise worldwide because it serves the purpose of monetary gain for the privileged few, and because there is no longer an governing alternative to self interest. Germans, French, Dutch, and British are reverting to the antipathy to the foreign that World War II ended with the creation of their union, which tried to circumvent shortsighted nationalism. The Middle East is racist too, disguised as Islamic radicalism. The Arab, a fraternal culture, splits down Sunni/Shiite lines making them vulnerable to resource imperialism. India and Pakistan, darker Hindu against lighter Islamic foe, will fight over the assets and riches of the larger part of the oriental subcontinent. African tribes will continue to slaughter each other over faiths holding different pieces of mineral treasure making military adventurism easier to justify. China’s Hans will challenge the USA for dominance in the Pacific, for their communist capitalism is pressed against international capitalist dominance, presenting growth opportunities for all stockholders. Remember WWI spurred the growth of Wall Street capitalists and American, German, French and British war industries.

The military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against has taken place, slowly growing from the turn of the 20th century to victory in the decades after WWII. Bombs, planes, drones, and killing hardware provide profitable business to countries where making refrigerators is no longer profitable. Military might is a salve to the xenophobic, whose opportunities to express their superiority have been limited by the increase of less fortunate immigrants and refugees from economic and internal strife. For the mantra of the post-communist world is that every man (and woman to a lesser extent), should be for himself. Each should provide for self at a profit because that is the philosophy of capitalism. There is no us. There is no togetherness. Government gets in the way. There are no shared values for each have something that is theirs. Forget Leviticus (19- 2, 9-18), “When you reap the harvest of your fields, do not cut the grain to the very edge of the field, or gather in all the gleanings. Nor are you to completely strip your vines or pick up all the fallen fruit. Leave extra grain and fruit for the poor people and foreigners to gather for themselves. I am your God. Do not steal. Do not lie; do not cheat your neighbor. Do not swear by my name with intent to deceive, for if you do, you profane my name.” Profit and instilling fear is the blessing of those who seize power. The other is not your friend. They are the wrong color, have the wrong beliefs, and will take from you what is rightly yours. You must kill them for the profit of all who subscribe to rightfulness. Republics are the fiction of idealists.

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Terre Haute, Indiana, 2016

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Houses in Terre Haute, Indiana, 2016

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Filed under Architecture, Article, Capitalism, Culture, Eisenhower, Grand Island, Nebraska, Indiana, Leviticus, Military Industrial Complex, Nebraska, Racism, Temecula, California, Terre Haute, Indiana, The Movie Network, Thomas Jefferson, Trump, Wall Street

LA’s Heart Attack

tomkellycalendargolden-dreams                                                                     Golden Dreams Calendar 1954

LA’s heart and soul is having an attack. The real heart is not Tinseltown, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Culver City, or Burbank, those centers of glitzy, glamour, and celebrity, which are the world’s image of Los Angeles. The blood-pumping center is the place of its diversity, its founding history, and creative spark. The area is ringed by four freeways with the Arts District nestled within, epitomizing its soul. Rapacious development is killing this essence.

Gentrified developments threaten to Manhattanize LA’s heart, making it solely a place of corporate uses and the abode of the wealthiest citizens. Diversity of people and use plunges. This is to the detriment of the vibrant place that was long the unrecognized center. Economic value increases, but cultural variety and mixture lose. The Grand Central Market, once a wonderful paseo between Broadway and Hill Streets, where cheap produce and products abounded for all, is now half empty, its grocery stalls priced out. Isolated food stands await pricier wine and cheese boutiques, while across the street the glass-atriumed Bradbury Building, LA’s seminal 1893 office building, is being considered for condominium apartments. Boyle Heights, once the neighborhood where Jewish and Japanese settlers could prosper, and Mexican Americans established their Southern California homeland amid “Iowa by the Sea,” where anyone not white wasn’t accepted, is vulnerable to house flippers buying up the Victorian homes.            meteor_brand_lemons_crate_label-courtesy-oviatt-library-csun                                         Fruit Crate Label by Western Lithograph Company

The Arts District established in the early 1990s is losing the artists who populated this once depressed warehouse zone and gave a new creative energy that recaptured the mythic forces in LA’s history. These warehouses and service structures stored the products moved into and out of the agricultural paradise that drew people west in the manifest destiny of America. Oranges and lemons shipped out of the sector’s railroad sidings. The emblematic fruit crate labels by anonymous artists were printed at Western Lithograph on Rose Street in the Arts District. Pianos and furniture brought by immigrants were stored in buildings like the Citizens Warehouse on the other side of the LA River Bridge from Santa Fe Railroad Depot. The depot was demolished in 1939 to be replaced by the Art Moderne masterpiece Union Station. These storage structures and the printing shop became the cheap studios for creative people in the last quarter of the 20th century. The printing shop in the early 21st century was demolished for apartments. The Citizens Warehouse was partially demolished for mass transit over the river, and what remains lies vacant.

tractionandthird               Apartments at the corners of Rose, Traction, and 3rd Street in the Arts District

In the center of the Arts District, near the location of the original Santa Fe Terminal, is a small hotel called the American. Often representing discrimination, it nevertheless embodies the spirit, the rich, and multicultural history of Los Angeles. After many years of neglect, The American is preserved, but the remodeling has turned an icon of possibilities into a fashionable nightly rental. Artist Stephen Seemayer created a film, “Tales of the American,” which tells the story of this hotel built in 1905 for African American railroad conductors and porters, who wouldn’t be allowed into LA’s larger and more prestigious hotels. Over 111 years of existence this small transient lodging with a bar on the ground floor has passed through many transformations while retaining it affordability and strange allure. During Prohibition it was a speakeasy. Japanese Americans took over the facility as Little Tokyo arose. World War II saw the Japanese internment and the hotel was sold to other ownership. The lodgers were workers in the produce district arising along Alameda, when trucks supplanted railroads as the primary commercial transportation.

deeprivergallerywithdanielmartinez-2                                      Deep River Gallery with Daniel Joseph Martinez

As the area around the hotel declined, its warehouses gradually vacated, and artists discovered the area. The American became access to the district. The bar became Al’s Bar, an internationally known venue of the punk rock scene, and art flourished on and in galleries of the American. Dustin Shuler erected his plane with a monumental nail to the façade of the building. “Two Ton Common” was used to attach the sculpture “Pinned Butterfly,” declaring the ascendency of an art community. A hotel gallery, Deep River, showed the work of provocateur, Daniel Joseph Martinez and allied artists to European acclaim. But as the 20th Century passed into the 21st Century, developers sensed money and descended on the area, newly proclaimed by the city as The Arts District. Gone are: Al’s Bar, Pinned Butterfly, the galleries in the American, AAA Art Gallery that showed drawing by Paul McCarthy, The Art Dock, the Drive-by Gallery in the Citizens Warehouse, Deep River, The Galleria by the Water, the Spanish Kitchen performance space, and the Waldenboyd Theater. The District Gallery, which showed the work of many Art District artists, fights to save and fund its lease in the new development, One Santa Fe, which lies where the old railroad terminal was, from the new owners who have raised the rent to a prohibitive level.

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The American about to become gentrified 2016

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The American in 1980 with “Pinned Butterfly”

Change driven by money always been LA’s mantra, but the shortsightedness discounts the creative and diverse cultural inclusiveness that flourished in the past, and could still flourish in the future, if not destroyed by unaffordability. Artists can’t compete with the money of the new urban settlers, nor could the big inexpensive creative spaces survive. This transformation is inevitable. Huge developments are planned in the expanded district. A 30-story development called Mesquite Place extending from 6th Street to 7th climbing over the railroad tracks to edge the river is in the approval process. All that can be hoped is that the Arts District is not swallowed up in towers and ersatz “loft” compounds. What might be demanded of the city is that it restricts the size of developments in old Arts District, perhaps by selling air rights. And perhaps some miracle might happen like what Michael Connelly imagined in his latest Harry Bosch detective novel, “The Wrong Side of Goodbye.”

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Proposed Mesquite Development at the 7th Street Bridge and the River 2016

“The Wrong Side of Goodbye” is an apt metaphor. The wrong side of progress is kissing goodbye to the artists, along with the outside the system galleries. The art market exemplified by the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel Gallery has descended on the Arts District. The chauffeur driven limousines of the collectors are not far behind. This is could be a good thing or a bad thing, but it will precipitate the loss of other artist-sponsored spaces. Michael Connelly spoke to this condition as detective Harry Bosch investigated the reality of a multi-billionaire heir hidden in the Arts District. The conclusion of the story imagines the creation of an organization that sponsors artists and artists’ affordable workspaces. If only Los Angeles, with its surfeit of multi-millionaires, were to make places for functioning artists and not concentrate only on the market value of the art they produce, the heart of Los Angeles would be a Mecca of cultural inventiveness that isn’t just media and movie driven.

Or we could hope that Hollywood history would remember The Arts District printing company building on Rose Street, which became the studio, where photographer Tom Kelly shot the calendar image of a nude, young starlet, named Marilyn Monroe. But do not expect it to happen. Miracles only happen in the movies. Time to pull down the Arts District signs.

OMR Downtown Hotel

Map of the Heart of Los Angeles

 

 

 

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Article, Arts District, Capitalism, Culture, Los Angeles