The City of Angels in All Its Imperfect Glory

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Last week, I went on the air with a program suggesting that major museums in Los Angeles could be more generous to their public. Compared to their counterparts in the United States and Europe, some of which are open seven days a week and offer free admission, our museums do not seem quite as generous. The number of responses this program got was the highest I've received in the last few years. You may want to take a look at these spirited comments on the Art Talk website.

Some local museums reprimanded me for not mentioning the fact that they offer free admission to their public. And it's true; some local museums – including the California African American Museum, the Santa Monica Museum of Art and the Torrance Art Museum – do let their public come for free. However, the focus of my program was on the major players in the LA art scene: the Getty, LACMA, Hammer and MOCA.

The Getty informed me that visitors who paid the $15 parking fee at one of their two museums could visit their other museum on the same day without paying for parking again. Hmm... One wonders how many people are actually willing to brave the traffic to squeeze visiting both museums into one day.

LACMA officials reminded me that on weekdays after 3pm admission is free, though it applies only to LA County residents. However, during weekends everyone still has to pay, including residents.

So my friends, I do recommend that before you visit LA museums, check out their websites for hours and special deals – it might make your trip more enjoyable.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles
Courtesy Wilshire Boulevard Temple


Now, let's turn our attention to one of the most significant historical landmarks in LA – the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. This 1929 Byzantine-style building – after two years of extensive restoration – is scheduled to reopen in September. A couple of weeks ago, I went on a press walk-through given by Rabbi Steven Leder and architect Brenda Levin, known for the restoration of such landmarks as the Bradbury Building, the Wiltern Theater and Griffith Observatory.

Interior of Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Photo Edward Goldman, Courtesy Wilshire Boulevard Temple


It was my first experience visiting this formidable building, and I was duly impressed by its sumptuous architecture and richness of interior décor. The most unusual aspect of the decorations is its huge, 320 ft-long mural wrapping around the Temple's interior. It was commissioned by Hollywood's Warner Brothers and painted by film set designer Hugo Ballin in a very dramatic style reminiscent of Hollywood silent era movies.

Interior of Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Photo Edward Goldman, Courtesy Wilshire Boulevard Temple


What's unusual is that the mural, with its figurative imagery, breaks the Second Commandment in the Jewish Old Testament, which says, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." But hey, we are talking about Hollywood in the Roaring 20's. The fresco, before the restoration, was in very bad condition, but now it shines in its full operatic glory.

Architect Brenda Levin speaking at Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Photo Edward Goldman, Courtesy Wilshire Boulevard Temple


I want to thank one of my listeners who sent me an email with timely information about the upcoming exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art celebrating the work of American architect William Pereira, responsible for the Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco's iconic Transamerica Tower and the original LACMA campus.


(Top) William L. Pereira, "Transamerica Corporate Headquarters Tower,
San Francisco, California," 1973
Photograph by Barbara Stumm, 2011
(Bottom) William L. Pereira & Associates, "University of California, San Diego Geisel Library," 1970
Photo by Capitolshots Photography
Both images courtesy Nevada Museum of Art


It's indeed ironic that the Nevada Museum of Art is honoring Pereira as a "modernist maverick" while we in LA are planning to tear down one of his key projects, the original LACMA buildings. In a recent profile on Ed Ruscha in the New Yorker, his famous 11 ft-wide painting, "Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire," is described as "a source of undying regret to Michael Govan, the current director of LACMA, who considers it a quintessential Los Angeles picture."

Ed Ruscha, "The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire," 1968
Oil on canvas
Collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
Photo © Lee Stalsworth


I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment by Mr. Govan, but once again I find myself questioning the wisdom of tearing down the very building that has inspired Ed Ruscha to create his masterpiece. 

Banner image: Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles, 1939. Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library