Vermonica Lives!

 

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Two years ago I received the news that Vermonica had been dismantled and moved. . A lot has transpired and one silver lining is realizing the impact and support for this work. . So many threads to this story- which I hope will be illuminated, disclosed and discussed. . Because of the continued sleuthing and inquiry by Richard Schave and Kim Cooper of Esotouric, a trove of emails were found that were damning to Bureau of Street Lightning and the city and therefore forced the city to do the right thing. . I have a contract to rebuild the piece on Santa Monica Boulevard near the Bureau with a hopeful opening in early May- the 27th birthday of Vermonica. . Hope to see you there. . More soon, feel free to share this news, I am hopeful. . Sheila . . . #sheilaklein #vermonica

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We’re delighted to finally be able to share the thrilling news that Sheila Klein’s Vermonica, the original vintage Los Angeles street light sculpture and cultural landmark (accept no imitations!) will once again be installed in the heart of East Hollywood under the direction of the artist. Her New Years Day Instagram post (above) let the cat out of the bag.

The unbelievable story of Vermonica’s mysterious removal and half-baked duplication has been featured on this blog previously. Catch up by reading Part One and Part Two.

Getting to a place where the city agreed to right this wrong took a lot of hard work by a dedicated crew who refused to accept the loss of the landmark as a done deal. When progress stalled, Adrian Riskin of government transparency blog MichaelKohlhaas.org uncovered a shocking tranche of emails that revealed precisely how a city department had violated Sheila Klein’s artist’s rights. To the city’s credit, they came back to the table to hammer out a deal that satisfies the artist and gives the artwork back to the East Hollywood community.

For us, the lesson of this 2+ year restoration and accountability campaign is clear: Never give up on the things you believe in, and let the light of Vermonica be your guiding star as you set out every day to be a good Angeleno and to make this city a better place for your neighbors and those who will come after.

So save the approximate date of early May 2020*, for a big party at Vermonica’s new, nearby location. We cannot wait to dance in the streets by the light of our beloved urban candelabra with Sheila Klein, music, tacos and YOU!

*update: Like so many things, Vermonica’s return has been delayed by the pandemic. We’ll keep you posted about progress on this restoration.

A Statement From Sheila Klein about her artwork Vermonica (1993-2017)

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On the evening of Tuesday, November 21, 2017, I received an email from a person that I don’t know asking me what had happened to Vermonica. Within a short time, through inquiries and observations from people in Los Angeles, it was confirmed that the piece had been removed and relocated to the lawn of the Bureau of Street Lighting field office, a couple of blocks away.

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photo by Mike Hume, 11/23/2017

Here are the facts: the piece was intended to be up for one year and instead became a beloved icon in East Hollywood for 24 years. It was on private property. The property owner is redesigning the parking lot and asked the Bureau of Street Lighting to remove it by January 2018. Some years ago there was talk about the City of L.A. acquiring the piece so it would be protected. That did not happen due to the complexity of the situation.

I was not contacted. I do not own the poles. I wish they had involved me to redesign the piece for the new location, but they did not.

While the Bureau of Street Lighting put the piece on their property with the historic street lights in the order I designed, this is not my piece and it is no longer Vermonica.

I am proud that it lived for so many years and became woven into the vernacular of the City. I hope a new piece will emerge to keep this idea alive. In the coming months, it is my hope that a dialogue can begin and partnerships identified to bring the power of Vermonica back onto Los Angeles city streets in whatever form that may take. I am thinking deeply about what I think the next steps should be and I invite you to join this conversation.

Among the many complex issues involved is the idea that even if there is no legal standing, there is an ethical need to contact the artist. But the Bureau of Street Lighting is not in the business of making art and I doubt they think of this in the same way I do. The head of the Bureau’s Field Operations now is Jeff Ziliotto, who volunteered to work on the piece in 1992. His father was also a street lighter.

Here’s what I wrote in 1992 when I was trying to make this piece: “I am an artist who wishes to uncover romantic truths about the city. To get the average person to pay attention to their surroundings and the built environment, and to point out the sculptural significance of streetlights and complexity of the task of the city. The piece references the intimate household scale of candlesticks into an urban scaled candelabra for the household of the city”.

And from the Bureau of Street Lighting Notice #599: “The sculpture consists of 25 examples of the more than 250 styles of street light poles and fixtures which have been maintained in the City’s street lighting system. Some of these poles have not seen active service in the City system for 30 to 40 years. Many are fine examples of the artistry and craftsmanship that typified ornamental street lighting designs of the early part of the century. This is the first time that such a display has been assembled in Los Angeles.”

Vermonica operated within and outside of the realm of art. It had distinct lives in the art world, the arena of public works, historical preservation and the neighborhood where it was located.

-Sheila Klein, November 24, 2017 (sheilaklein.com)

 

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A LAVA tour of Downtown L.A.’s Subway Terminal and Tunnel

 

 

Subway Terminal tunnel on LAVA tour June 2017 by Kemal Cilengir

                                                                                                                                       photo by Kemal Cilengir

Yesterday’s free (with RSVP) LAVA Sunday Salon and walking tour focused on the holy grail of Los Angeles mass transit history: the sealed-off streetcar station and tunnel located beneath the Subway Terminal Building.

How eager are Angelenos to see this storied space? The waiting list was a thousand names long! For those who couldn’t join us on this time travel trip, below you’ll find some photos (or video) to tell this complex and fascinating tale.

We began our LAVA Sunday Salon program in the basement of Grand Central Market where downtown historian Nathan Marsak (nice tie!) let us know what to look for in the Subway Terminal, and our own Richard Schave explained how the Bonaventure Hotel footings severed the tunnel in 1976. Plus, Bunker Hill native son Gordon Pattison previewed his July 30 Sunday Salon talk about his lost Victorian neighborhood and the short-lived Second Street Cable Car Rail Road.

Then, after strapping on headlamps and double-knotting boots, our well-prepared and somewhat giddy group made the short walk down Hill Street to the Subway Terminal Building for a rare tour of the historic passenger concourse, train platform, offices and yes, that remarkable decommissioned tunnel, complete with a growing collection of stalactites and stalagmites! We’re grateful to our gracious hosts at Metro 417 for welcoming us into the Los Angeles landmark beneath their apartment tower.

Will there be another Subway tunnel tour? Only time, and the LAVA newsletter, will tell.

Happy, dusty explorers emerge into the light – Photo: J. Scott Smith – see more