Spirit of Growth

Background Information

Tony Sheets, 1989. 35' x 66'. 331 S. Spring Street.
In 1986, System Parking Investments, Inc., the developer of the Broadway-Spring Center, awarded a $40,000 commission to Tony Sheets to develop a work of public art for the structure. The garage was a critical component in the Community Redevelopment Agency's strategy to revitalize Spring Street. As an inducement for the State of California to construct a new office building on the street, the Community Redevelopment Agency sponsored the construction of the garage to provide nearby parking for the State employees and for people conducting business with the State.

Traditionally, public garages were not sites for public art, but these projects were included in the 1985 public art policy of the Community Redevelopment Agency. Under the policy, developers were obligated to allocate one percent of the construction costs to public art. Projects developed under the policy had to be reviewed by the agency's Arts Advisory Committee. One of the first projects the Committee evaluated was a map of California that Sheets designed for a curtain wall on the Spring Street facade of the Broadway-Spring Center. The committee felt the proposal was not relevant to the historical context of the project's site and encouraged Sheets to produce a work that was both more contemporary in design and more responsive to current social issues. The Committee also advised Sheets to consider integrating his artwork into other areas of the building in order to create a more interesting experience for pedestrians than a single large rectangular panel.(1)

In a subsequent meeting, the Committee again encouraged Sheets to explore other parts of the building and suggested that he design a work that exploited the length of the structure facing Spring Street. (2) When Sheets later presented a preliminary drawing, the Committee recommended changing the composition by emphasizing images from the 20th century, updating the style of the figures, making the people more racially mixed, and introducing a more dynamic quality.(3)

In response to the committee's comments, Sheets toured downtown's historic core with Robert Chattel, a planner at the Community Redevelopment Agency, and reviewed the CRA's historic photograph collection. Later, Sheets prepared designs incorporating the developer's suggestion that the work include a transportation theme.(4) Through further discussions with the Art Advisory Committee, Sheets made the design more legible by reducing the number of images and by enlarging each image.(5) When approving the final design in early 1988, the committee wrote that "Sheets' work will provide historical reference to the site, and contribute positively to the downtown community."(6) The Committee was also pleased with Sheets' willingness and openness in working with them and felt that the process envisioned by the Community Redevelopment Agency's public art policy was successful.(7)

Four separate stories in "The Spirit of Growth" speak of the variety in Downtown's historic core. The area's ethnic diversity is represented by the figures in the panel on the lower left; architectural history is represented by the Stock Exchange, the Arcade Building, theaters and banks; economic history is represented by grape fields, citrus groves, oil wells, laboring men and the movies; and transportation history is represented by a line of cars, buses, horse-drawn wagons, a trolley and Angels Flight.(8) Sheets carved the design inside-out and backwards in polystyrene foam molds, which he then used to create molds for casting the cement. The fourteen completed panels, each measuring 10' x 17', were fabricated with a 3" deep relief and then transported to the site for installation.


1 Minutes of the Arts Advisory Committee, Community Redevelopment Agency, December 1, 1986; Letter from Marc Pally, Community Redevelopment Agency, to Thomas Phillips, System Parking Investments, Inc., December 17, 1986.

2. Minutes of the Arts Advisory Committee, Community Redevelopment Agency, January 5, 1987.

3. Minutes of the Arts Advisory Committee, Community Redevelopment Agency, February 2, 1987.

4. Minutes of the Arts Advisory Committee, Community Redevelopment Agency, May 12, 1987.

5. Compare a drawing dated 1987 in the Community Redevelopment Agency file on the project with the final design.

6. Letter from Carol Goldstein, Principal Planner, Community Redevelopment Agency, to Virgil McDowell, Broadway Spring Center, January 29, 1988.

7. Minutes of the Arts Advisory Committee, Community Redevelopment Agency, April 6, 1987.

8. Letter from Michelle Isenberg, Corporate Art Consultants, to Community Redevelopment Agency Arts Advisory Committee, re: Revised Broadway Spring Center Phase I Final Art Plan, February 1, 1988.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, October 1999.

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