An Interpretation In Stone and Concrete: “The Fine Arts Building”

Article by A. R. Walker appeared in The Skyscraper, Volume II, Number 10, December 1926.

The freedom for play and unrestrained outlet for the imagination, is an opportunity only occasionally offered the architect, in the practice of his profession.

In The Fine Arts Building, just recently completed, there is expressed, in stone and concrete, an idea conveyed by Mr. Godfrey Edwards to the Architects. This, so it seems to me, is no less than an interpretation which will, in practical effect, register its purpose and appeal to the tenancy of the building, as well as contributing, through architectural beauty, to the splendor of Los Angeles’ downtown skyline.

Previous to adding this unit to The Edwards and Wildey chain of business buildings, Mr. Edwards and his Architect, made an extensive tour of the Eastern cities. This tour was prompted by the idea of ascertaining, first hand, in what manner these cities builded and provided for the housing of studios and rental units – wherein the appeal was directed to Decorators, Antique and Period Dealers, and the various other commercial outlets for the Fine and Applied Arts.

In no one city, or in no one building, was there a serious effort to interpret the tenancy through the medium of the architecture. However, the journey was a successful venture – in that, the loosely gathered suggestions and ideas from far flung places, assembled and welded together, brought forth to the travelers, a definite picture, and, this picture, with slight difference, is the Fine Arts Building, as its stands completed, today.

Cornering upon Lebanon Street, a rather quaint, studio-like thoroughfare, and fronting on Seventh Street, the broad, busy, merchandising artery of Los Angeles – a full force in the design, was accorded the principal street elevation. Choosing a Basilian-like mass, as the form and shape for the Façade, it afforded an excellent vehicle for the rich, and somewhat playful, adapted Romanesque detail and ornament, enriching its cornices, belt courses, arches, lunettes, columns and capitals, and other members. Studied examination, discloses a multiplicity of interestingly modeled forms throughout the ornamentation, and the skilled workmanship, both in the production and setting of the clay materials, affords full value to the pleasing mass.

The two street fronts are faced with Architectural Terra Cotta; the plain Ashler blocks, making up the stone-like masonry – all of a slightly variegated hue; the texture, a low matt glaze; and all expressing, in material practical for their ease of cleaning, a warm colorful sandstone.

The rich doorway arch is of highly decorative members, forming a deep splayed reveal, and over heavy, ornate bronze entrance doors, is a richly modeled and perforated grille.

Completed, the building will present six, heroic size, masterfully modeled group of statuary – the work of Burt Johnson, an eminent sculptor, and brother-in-law of St. Goudens. Mr. Johnson, who is now residing in Clairmont, has been occupied with the work on these figures for one year. Two of the groups, and the greatest, will yet require time for completion.

The ground-floor lobby of the building, in dimension 34x66 feet, towering through the first and second stories to a height of 35 feet, is indeed a fitting approach to a fine arts building. The expanse of beautifully toned and delightfully woven tile, forming the floor, is broken by a pool and fountain. The charming, child figures kneeling at the pool edge and grasping the spouting frogs, add the playful touch to the exquisite central child figure, “The High Note,” which is also the work of Mr. Johnson, and cast in enduring bronze by Gorhams. The walls, the balcony fronts, and the columns and arched of interesting, low glazed, low toned tile, interspersed by the sparkling, high glaze ceramic panels and the flashing, blue soffits of arches – have all been executed by that master of the Ceramic Art, Mr. E.A. Batchelder.

The metal workers’ art is ably exemplified in the richly ornate display-cases; while crowning this rich interior, is a beautifully handled richly painted, type of early Italian ceiling.

Each of the upper floors is divided into a series of varying sized studios; the upper floor lobbies being designed in a quiet, restrained manner – thereby offering no discord to any loft or studio tenant, who may desire his own, or her own, scheme of finish, or period of design, in their choice of space.

Adding to all of these things, which can be but inadequately described, all the manifold and practical utilities or facilities of the building – in its adequacy of heat, hot water, plumbing and elevator service each of the best and most modern equipment – The Fine Arts Building should make an appeal far beyond its capacity.

The work, both on the exterior of the building and the fountain statuary in the interior lobby, all executed by Mr. Burt Johnson, is particularly worthy of further comment. Visioning first, the great figures at the third story line; then, the figures at the ninth story offsets; and lastly, the delightfully strong and convincing groups at the twelfth story levels, we hardly at first glance, appreciate the difficulties faced, and the resourcefulness used by the sculptor. Narrow ledges, precluding correctness of physical proportion, call for the superior ability of expressing beautiful and faithful proportions in the “flat round,” a problem seldom mastered, or even undertaken, by the modern sculptor. Agan, height of figures and groups required the solving of the problem of foreshortening to obviate distortion and ridiculous dimension in the part of the anatomy. These accomplishments, added to expressive interpretation – which means creative genius, plus craftsmanship and technique – constitute the convincing summing up of Mr. Johnson’s rare work.

The decorative terminations beautifully modeled and executed by Mr. Batchelder’s studio, and appearing as crowning the attached, highly foliated and decorated columns on the interior of the ground-floor lobby, may be defined as exemplifying more of architecture and loss of sculpture. These figures are expressive of Music, Pottery, and the several other suggestions of the Fine and Applied Arts.

No building in the United States, perhaps, so fully undertakes to affect of itself, the manifold outpourings of the Fine and Applied Arts – demonstrating, as it were, for the sales benefit of the tenants invited, the potentialities of utilizing, not merely in our homes, but in our larger and more commercial structures, the benefits of these oft-scant-thought-of, creative outlets of artistic, human endeavor.

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