The Brunswig Drug Company was established in 1887 by Lucien N. Brunswig, who previously established the Pharmacy Department at the University of Southern California. Among the company's earliest buildings are three that are still standing on the west side of Main Street, across from the Pico House at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument.
The company relocated its warehouse and laboratory in 1931 from Main Street to the Albert C. Martin, Sr. designed Brunswig Building on 2nd Street. This building was sold in 1968 to developers who converted it into a 250 car garage. After purchasing the six story building in 1983, Mika Company added three stories, converted the parking space into offices, constructed wings at the street level for retail shops, and renamed the complex Brunswig Square. An art component was part of this renovation under the percent-for-art requirement of the Community Redevelopment Agency.
In late 1985, Mika Company hired Scott Schaefer, curator of European Paintings and Sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to help select an artist. He recommended James Surls, who proposed in mid-1986, a sculptural piece made of wood, and shaped like "a flower with figurative characteristics" rising atop a six legged base. The developer, however, never followed through with the commission and the design was never executed.
Three years later, the Mika Company attempted to obtain a Certificate of Completion from the Community Redevelopment Agency as part of refinancing the loan on the building. The CRA refused to issue the certificate because the fine art component of the original agreement between the CRA and the developer was never completed. Peter Lodato was then commissioned to execute a work from his series "Wrathful Means." This series of paintings and sculpture depicted the power and ferocity of Mahakala, the protector of Lamism, as an obelisk shaped abstraction of a sword.
Lodato and the architect, Donald Barany, collaborated in integrating the sculpture with the 20' x 24' patio at Brunswig Square. They designed Silver Tower equal in height to the building at its rear, added signage, planters and seating in the patio, and framed the building's retail entrances with neon lighting.
The CRA's Arts Advisory Committee and the Little Tokyo Community Development Advisory Committee approved Lodato's design after inspecting a maquette of the piece. When the work was installed, however, Lodato substituted a rippled finish for the model's highly polished reflective stainless steel. Initially objecting to this change, both Advisory Committees finally accepted it after being informed by Lodato that the new surface not only was more resistant to damage, it gave a handmade appearance that "reflects the energy invested by the craftsmen who worked the surface." According to Lodato, the surface also "refers to water on mercury and functions not as architecture, but as sculpture. It dematerializes the object in one instance and projects the nature of the steel in another."
Both Advisory Committees, however, raised more serious objections to installing the sculpture three feet closer to both the sidewalk and the adjacent driveway than was identified in the original plans. Though the Michael Kamen, the president of Mika Company, claimed the move was necessary because of underground electrical wires, the CRA ultimately deferred to the Little Tokyo Community Development Advisory Committee's objections and refused to issue a Certificate of Completion for the project, claiming the installation failed to meet the percent-for-art obligation. Unable to obtain refinancing because of the CRA's action, the developer finally resolved the matter by moving the underground wires and reinstalling the sculpture at the spot marked in the plans.
The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, January 1998.
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