A Love Letter to Los Angeles Streetlights (1867-2021), featuring the triumphant rebirth of Sheila Klein’s “Vermonica”
Even when Los Angeles was a sleepy, dusty village of 5000 souls, its vibrant night life demanded a consistent source of illumination. The first privately financed gas lamps were installed along Main Street in 1867, a modern convenience that helped shape the development of Downtown’s commercial core.
In 1882, electricity arrived, not in the familiar form of a regular row of bulbs at second story height, but with spectacular 150’ poles that cast a spreading moonlight glow from 3,000-candle power arc lamps. Beneath them, Angelenos enjoyed all the benefits and troubles of a 24 hour city.
With the 20th century came an explosion of urban and suburban development, illuminated and accompanied by a fascinating assortment of artistically designed streetlights, many of them installed exclusively along one street or in a single neighborhood.
In this webinar, we’ll go on a then-and-now treasure hunt introducing you to some of those iconic streetlight designs, their history and evolution as a living part of the urban streetscape. These designs have poetic names like the Broadway Rose, the Vine Double, Metropolitan Standards, Wilshire and Hollywood Specials.
On an obscure stretch of East Los Angeles streetscape inches away from the Golden State Freeway, you’ll discover the charms and mysteries of the Commerce Historic Lighting District, a striking stand of obsolete streetlights left behind when modern poles were installed.
In Angeleno Heights, you’ll learn about the Carroll Avenue Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, and how the preservation-minded home owners worked with the city and utility companies to turn back the clock by hiding unsightly overhead wires, turning their time capsule street into a world class filming location. (This section of the webinar is informed by original, unpublished archival material that we purchased at the estate sale of the neighborhood’s premier historian.)
And we’ve got special guest streetlight lovers on hand to talk about the poles that beguile them.
* Infrastructure historian Jack Feldman — who sits on the board and maintains the virtual museum of Water and Power Associates (W&PA), an essential resource for anyone interested in the history of Southern California, will guide us through the development of streetlighting in Los Angeles, drawing on the Early Los Angeles Street Lights ** (https://waterandpower.org/museum/Early_Bureau_of_Power_and_Light_Streetlights.html) exhibit.
* Historic preservation advocate and chronicler of the early French history of Los Angeles ** (C.C. de Vere) shines a light on Disneyland’s Main Street USA, home to a selection of salvaged Llewellyn Electroliers.
* Architectural historian Nathan Marsak, author of ** Bunker Hill Los Angeles: Essence of Sunshine and Noir and ** Bunker Noir! tells how Patty Hearst and her Symbionese Liberation Army kidnappers left an indelible mark on one Inglewood streetlight.
Plus, we’ll look at two-high profile instances of Los Angeles artists using historic streetlights in sculpture. While Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” (2008) on LACMA’s Wilshire Boulevard side is museum director Michael Govan’s signature achievement and a favorite spot for social media selfies, the piece is strikingly similar to Sheila Klein’s “Vermonica” (1993), that artist’s response to the 1992 Rodney King uprising placed in one of the looted East Hollywood mini-malls.
For 25 years, “Vermonica” [** https://www.vermonica.com/ ] enlivened the commercial streetscape and sparked conversation and discovery. But in 2017, “Vermonica” was mysteriously removed from the parking lot at Santa Monica and Vermont with no notice to the artist or public. Soon after, its vintage streetlight components were reinstalled in front of the nearby Bureau of Street Lighting HQ, in a different configuration that the artist repudiated.
As longtime “Vermonica” [** https://esotouric.com/tag/vermonica/ ] fans with a special interest in public policy and the strange workings of Los Angeles city government, we worked closely with Sheila Klein to figure out what had happened to her sculpture, then lobbied the city to support a proper reinstallation and to add “Vermonica” to the civic art collection. “Vermonica” can now be found on Santa Monica Boulevard at Lyman Place, opposite the Cahuenga Branch Library. This relocation was completed with help and cooperation from Bureau of Street Lighting, City of Los Angeles and Amador Architects.
Sheila Klein says: “‘Vermonica’ is a love letter to the city of L.A. that would not have been delivered without the support of Esotouric’s Kim Cooper and Richard Schave. This work was originally created in 1993 to look at the sculptural aspect of streetlights and it illuminated a hopeful civilized path forward for Angelenos out of the trauma of the 1992 uprising. It seems appropriate that ‘Vermonica’ is shining again as the city grapples with the challenges of COVID, unrest, inequality and climate change. Domesticating the street, makes the city a place you want to be.”
This webinar is an illustrated lecture packed with rare photos that will the history of Los Angeles streetlights to life. And you’ll find the look of an Esotouric webinar is a little different than your standard dry Zoom session, with lively interactive graphics courtesy of the mmhmm app.
Sheila Klein will join us to talk about creating the original temporary “Vermonica” installation and the strange path to reinventing it as a permanent piece of public art, and will answer your questions, so get ready to be a part of the show.
About Esotouric: As undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave inexplicably hated one another on sight. (Perhaps less inexplicably, their academic advisor believed they were soul mates). A chance meeting 18 years later proved much more agreeable. Richard wooed Kim with high level library database access, with which she launched the 1947project true crime blog, highlighting a crime a day from the year of The Black Dahlia and Bugsy Siegel slayings. The popular blog’s readers demanded a tour, and then another. The tour was magical, a hothouse inspiring new ways for the by-then-newlyweds to tell the story of Los Angeles. Esotouric was born in 2007 with a calendar packed with true crime, literary, architecture and rock and roll tours. Ever since, it has provided a platform for promoting historic preservation issues (like the Save the 76 Ball campaign and the landmarking of Charles Bukowski’s bungalow), building a community of urban explorers (including dozens of free talks and tours under the umbrella of LAVA) and digging even deeper into the secret heart of the city they love.
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