"Hydroelectric Energy"; "Light"; "Power"

Merrell Gage, 1931. Three 6'h x 9'w panels. 601 West Fifth Street
The One Bunker Hill Building was a testament to modernity when completed in 1931. Designed by James E. and David C. Allison as the headquarters of the Southern California Edison Company, its sumptous lobby embraces what was the contemporary art deco style.(1) Its set-backs speak of skyscrapers and the modern city,(2) and its technological features made it the first building in the west to be heated and cooled by electricity. Art was incorporated throughout the building's public spaces to visually and symbolically enhance the progressive architectural and technological themes. Hugo Ballin's mural "Apotheosis of Power" embellishes the elegant main lobby while the side elevator lobby is lined on the east wall by Barse Miller's allegorical murals on the transmission and distribution of electricity and on the west wall by Conrad Buff's "White Coal". Three allegorical bas-reliefs, carved in place by Merrell Gage, are nestled in stone panels above the vestibule arches in a pavilion marking the building's entrance. Gage blended the near future with the recent past by juxtaposing muscular figures which prefigured the public art style of the New Deal, with levers, wheels and electricity, which harkened back to symbols of modernity during the 1920s.(3) Symbolizing "Power," a nude male in the panel on the viewer's right is ready to turn a large electric switch.(4) The nude in the central panel holding a light bulb in his outstretched arm represents "Light" and "Hydroelectric Energy." The panel on the viewer's left depicts a partially nude male pouring water from a jug into a waterwheel. These three panels may also be titled from the viewer's right to left "Distribution", "Utilization," and "Generation."(5) Electricity, an icon of modernity by being the power behind the latest gadgets--the radio, the motion picture, the light bulb, and the wide distribution of the telephone, thematically unites all three panels.


1 "Turnabout Is Fair Play," by Jack Smith, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1973, Pt. IV, p. 1.

2 "Los Angeles Communications Complex," Press Release, Pacific Bell, June 20, 1972.

3 Interview of Harry Sarerus of A.T. Heinsbergen & Co. by Michael Several, February 23, 1984

4 "Art in Business," Pictorial California and the Pacific," Vol. 4, 1961.

5 Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1931.

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

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