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A Love Letter to Los Angeles Streetlights (1867-2021) & triumphant rebirth of Sheila Klein’s “Vermonica"

About This Webinar

Join Esotouric, L.A.'s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, for an immersive cultural history webinar that’s a deep dive into the artistry, history, oddities and infrastructure of the streetlights of Los Angeles.

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 (This section of the webinar is informed by original, unpublished archival material that we purchased at the estate sale of the neighborhood’s premier historian.)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 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 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 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."

And Mike the Poet, educator, author of the recent Letters to My City and civic advocate, will lift our spirits with a poem celebrating the restored Vermonica.

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.

Can't join in when the webinar is happening? You'll have access to the full replay for one week. Please note: the 90 minute running time is just an estimate, and we often run long because the stories take on a life of their own. You can always come back and watch the last part of the webinar recording later.

So tune in and discover the incredible history of Los Angeles, with the couple whose passion for the city is infectious.

FYI: Immediately upon registering, you will receive a separate, automated email containing the link to join the webinar. The webinar is reliable on all devices, Mac, PC, iOS and Android.

About Esotouric: As undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave inexplicably hated one other 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 ever deeper into the secret heart of the city they love.

Rights and permissions: By attending an Esotouric webinar, you acknowledge that the entirety of the presentation is copyrighted, and no portion of the video or text may be reproduced in any fashion.

Who can view: Everyone
Webinar Price: $10.00
Featured Presenters
Webinar hosting presenter
Jack Feldman is currently on the executive Board of Water and Power Associates (W&PA), which is an organization dedicated to educating the Public, Politicians, and Media on water and energy issues affecting Southern California. Its secondary mission is to preserve the regional history of water and electricity and show its role in the development and growth of Los Angeles. Jack worked at the LA Department of Water and Power for over 35 years where he retired in 2006 as Senior Manager in charge of the Power Engineering Organization. Over the last 12 years Jack was responsible for putting together the W&PA website and virtual musuem. The museum is the largest of its kind, consisting of over 20,000 images, including background information related to the history of Los Angeles and Southern California.
Webinar hosting presenter Kim Cooper

After his undergraduate studies in art history at UC Santa Cruz, Richard Schave set out to explore the American interior as an itinerant brick mason. His return to his native Los Angeles coincided with a renewed acquaintance with Kim Cooper, a once-detested academic colleague who would become his bride. Together, fusing scholarly research with new digital tools, they launched the 1947project time travel blog, along with In SRO Land, and On Bunker Hill, as well as the Esotouric tour company. With the success of Kim’s True Crime tours, Richard developed a series of Literary and California Culture excursions. Richard is a dedicated preservationist, and the host of the LAVA Sunday Salon and the LAVA Literary Salon series, named Best L.A. Literary Salon by Los Angeles Magazine. He also curates an ongoing series of forensic science programs at Cal State Los Angeles. Richard is also a reader at the Huntington Library.

Webinar hosting presenter

Kim Cooper (“one of L.A.’s brightest torchbearers” – Electric Literature) is the creator of 1947project, the crime-a-day time travel blog that spawned Esotouric’s popular crime bus tours, including Pasadena Confidential, the Real Black Dahlia and Weird West Adams. She is the author of The Kept Girl, the acclaimed historical mystery starring the young Raymond Chandler and the real-life Philip Marlowe, and of The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles. Her collaborative L.A. history blogs include On Bunker Hill and In SRO Land. With husband Richard Schave, Kim curates the Salons of LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. When the third generation Angeleno isn’t combing old newspapers for forgotten scandals, she is a passionate advocate for historic preservation of signage, vernacular architecture and writer’s homes. Kim was for many years the editrix of Scram, a journal of unpopular culture. Her books include Fall in Love For Life, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Lost in the Grooves and an oral history of Neutral Milk Hotel.

Webinar hosting presenter
Sheila Klein, visual artist, straddles the worlds of Art and Architecture. Klein has been called "Chief Retranslator of Everyday Objects and a manipulator of familiar and archetypal images."

Klein has been "making this out of that" for more than 40 years. She has always bypassed convention, finding new ways to use old materials and new materials to express ancient concepts. She combines the worlds of art and architecture, mixing familiar and archetypal images to propose solutions to the homogenization of our environment.

Klein has exhibited widely at such diverse organizations as P.S.1, Institute for Art and Urban Studies in New York, Memory and Lands of the 20th Century in Florence, Italy, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Museum of Art and Design, New York, New York and La Foret Museum in Tokyo, Japan. Klein's work has been widely published in art journals and the mainstream media such as the New York Times, Times of India and National Public Radio. She is the youngest artist included in the book 50 Northwest Artists.

She practiced architecture in the early 80's as a member of the award-winning architecture firm group A2Z. Klein has been actively involved in public art since 1977 when she was awarded multiple commissions. Among her well-known civic projects are the air traffic control tower at the LAX, a subway station called Underground Girl in Hollywood, a light structure in the underpass leading into Santa Monica on Pico Blvd, and Leopard Sky, an architectural installation at Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. Her projects have received multiple national awards.

"I want to dress the world. Re-make it, as I want to see it, one piece at a time. The world is my studio. I perform with materials."

Webinar hosting presenter

I came to praise Los Angeles, not to bury her. And yet developers, City Hall and social reformers work in concert to effect wholesale demolition, removing the human scale of my town, tossing its charm into a landfill. The least I can do is memorialize in real time those places worth noting, as they slide inexorably into memory.

In college I studied under Banham.  I learned to love Los Angeles via Reyner’s teachings (and came to abjure Mike Davis and his lurid, fanciful, laughably-researched assertions).  In grad school I focused on visionary urbanism and technological utopianism—so while some may find the premise of preserving communities so much ill-considered reactionary twaddle, at least I have a background in the other side.

Anyway, I moved to Los Angeles, and began to document.  I drove about shooting neon signs.  I put endless miles across the Plains of Id on the old Packard as part of the 1947project; when Kim Cooper blogged about some bad lunch meat in Compton, I drove down to there to check on the scene of the crime (never via freeway—you can’t really learn Los Angeles unless you study her from the surface streets). 

But in short order one landmark after another disappeared.  Few demolitions are as contentious or high profile as the Ambassador or Parker Center; rather, it is all the little houses and commercial buildings the social engineers are desperate to destroy in the name of the Greater Good.  The fabric of our city is woven together by communities and neighborhoods who no longer have a say in their zoning or planning so it’s important to shine a light on these vanishing treasures, now, before the remarkable character of our city is wiped away like a stain from a countertop.  (But Nathan, you say, it’s just this one house—no, it isn’t.  Principiis obsta, finem respice.)

And who knows, one might even be saved.  Excelsior!

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