In 1908, Alexander Calder moved from Philadelphia to Pasadena because of his father's poor health. While living on Euclid Avenue, his father, Alexander Stirling Calder, executed several architectural sculpture pieces in the Los Angeles area including a panel at the old downtown YMCA building at the corner of Hope and Seventh where the Macy Plaza is now located. His most important work, however, were reliefs for the panels in the arched entrance to the Myron Hunt and Elmer Gray designed Throop Hall, on the campus of what became the California Institute of Technology.(1) Having helped his father fashion these arches when he was 11 years old, Alexander Calder referred to them by the title he gave to this large 1975 sculpture.(2)
When planning was underway in the early 1970s for the first office tower built atop Bunker Hill, the Community Redevelopment Agency required the developer, the Security Pacific National Bank, to comply with the percent-for-art policy for Bunker Hill projects. In addition, the CRA requested that the developer award the commission by holding a competition solely with California artists. Security Pacific wanted to award the commission directly to Alexander Calder without engaging in a competitive process. The bank admitted that Calder was not a California artist, but argued that he had a California connection through his help in executing the arches at Troop Hall.(3)
The CRA gave their approval in 1973 for a $250,000 commission to Calder.(4) After receiving the commission, Calder inspected the site while he visited Los Angeles for a promotional tour of "Flying Colors," the Braniff Airlines DC-8 airplane he painted.(5) Calder developed the design, size and scale of "Four Arches" by working with architectural drawings and a model of the site. He then built a maquette of the work.(6) Fabricated out of carbon plate steel, "4 Arches" was installed during the construction of the surrounding plaza. The sculpture was aligned by Peter Walker, the landscape architect, and painted "Calder" red, which is actually an orange-red. Creating a striking contrast against the muted colors Albert C. Martin and Associates incorporated into their design of the adjacent 52-story office tower, the sculpture has a high profile on Bunker Hill, serving as a distinctive landmark, and as a frame for the surrounding buildings.
After its installation, "4 Arches" became part of the large collection of art amassed by Security Pacific National Bank.(7) The bank, headquartered in the building prior to its acquisition by the San Francisco based Bank of America, maintained a full-time art consultant, Theresa Miller, who organized a series of highly acclaimed art installations on the grounds and acquired art by California artists for installation in bank branches.
Footnotes:1 "Alexander Stirling Calder," by Hector Alliot, Out West, Vol. XXXI, No. 3, September, 1909, pp. 764-785.
2 Interview with Oscar Lawler by Michael Several, April 3, 1987.
4 Memorandum from Richard G. Mitchell, Administrator, Community Redevelopment Agency, to Agency Members, dated October 17, 1973, re: Approval of Security Pacific National Bank Fine Arts Proposal Bunker Hill urban Renewal Project - Parcel I.
5 Calder's Universe, by Jean Lipman, Ruth Wolfe, editorial director, Running Press in cooperation with Whitney Museum of American Art, Philadelphia, PA, 1989. Also, "Calder Jets to L.A. Via 'Ultimate Mobile'," by Henry J. Seldis, Los Angeles Times, November 2, 1973, Pt. IV, page 4.
6 Interview with Theresa Miller by Michael Several, March 13, 1987.
7 "Sculpture and Wall Constructions," by Jean Marter, The Security Pacific Collection 1970-1985: Selected Works, 1985.
The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, June, 1998.
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