Yesterday in Los Angeles City Hall, our Richard Schave (representing the nonprofit Save LACMA and the LACMA Lovers League’s 1850+ petitioners) and Save LACMA board president Rob Hollman gave public comment against the granting of city-owned air rights over Wilshire Boulevard to allow LACMA to build its unpopular, undersized new bridge-style building.
Also speaking in opposition were Steve Luftman (Friends of Lytton Savings), Oscar Peña (artist and former LACMA employee) and Barton Phelps, FAIA (architect and preservationist who was instrumental in saving Central Library).
Drawing attention to the museum’s controversial partnerships with Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Quatar, final speaker Oscar Peña said, “As funding is stalling, LACMA is settling up with dictators, slave states and totalitarian regimes. We need real public oversight.” His powerful remarks earned a round of applause from the audience.
Later, Barton Phelps shared his strong and well reasoned opposition to Peter Zumthor’s design directly with LACMA director Michael Govan. He explained to Govan how the proposed building fails to respect the site and the history of this significant portion of the Miracle Mile, and expressed regret that he had not been able to be a part of the project conversation at an earlier stage. He continued this conversation later still with our Richard Schave, and those remarks are included at the end of this video. And his complete statement to City Council is transcribed below.
What about the result of the City Council vote? As decided long before today, the city eagerly granted the air rights request. But the fight continues!
Below you will find Barton Phelps’ intended comments for City Council, which he was unable to make in full due to outgoing Council President Herb Wesson’s anti-democratic one minute time limit, and which he personally handed to LACMA director Michael Govan:
• President Wesson, Honorable Council Members, I’m Barton Phelps, Principal, Barton Phelps & Associates, Architects and Planners, Los Angeles. We design buildings that support cultural and educational activity. I’m a former professor of architecture at UCLA and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Thank you for this chance to speak critically on this important matter.
• I’m not pleased to say what I must today and I don’t envy your responsibility for making sense of the layers of complexity this potentially wonderful project unfolds before us.
• I’m reminded that 44 years ago I stood in this exact spot attempting unsuccessfully to convince your predecessors on the City Council (especially the charismatic Gilbert Lindsay whose district this was) that replacing the 1926 Central Library with a so-so office building, although already designed, was not a great idea.
• A suit, brought jointly by the AIA and the National Trust, was, after many years, the City’s salvation.The library, restored and expanded, became an anchor of downtown renewal. I think of that effort by many people as a test of cultural maturity. Los Angeles rose to the occasion. The rest is history. I’m hoping it will again.
• The current L.A. County design proposal for much needed expansion and improvement to LACMA poses a similarly destructive threat to an iconic Los Angeles place but this time the threat is subtler in approach and, in its imagery, more socially and artistically beguiling.
• Given pressing limitations in site size, budget, function it seems odd that a design team composed of such brilliant design talents should persist in pursuing a fictional landscape of a site largely cleared of useful existing structures and capped by a simplistic, space-hungry, dated-looking, elevated single story composition. In refusing to fully recognize the truly daunting complexity of this project it unsuccessfully searches formalist simplicity for anchorage. It’s simply the wrong response.
• As if to demonstrate design team’s desperation, the current plan casually tosses a large suburban-looking volume across seven lanes of Wilshire Boulevard almost exactly where the corridor’s volume executes a graceful turn onto (or off of) the L.A. grid. But it will need your permission to do so.
• Aside from its painful impacts on sidewalks, park, and local neighborhoods the bridging of Wilshire Boulevard would crudely violate the historically-defining spatial continuity that generations of Angelinos have respected and delighted in for nearly a hundred years.
• (If I may) I’ll quote landscape historian, the late J.B. Jackson: “A landscape without visible signs of political history is a landscape without memory or forethought. We are inclined in America to think that the value of monuments is simply to remind us of origins.They are much more valuable as reminders of long-range, collective purpose, of goals and objectives and principles. As such even the least sightly of monuments gives a landscape beauty and dignity and keeps the collective memory alive.”
Barton Phelps, FAIA