Uptown Rocker

Historical Background

Lloyd Hamrol, 1986. 65' long x 30' high x 4' wide. Fourth Street between Hope and lower Grand.
Though the automobile was not invented in Los Angeles, nowhere was it more quickly adopted and integrated into the texture and fabric of urban life. By 1925, Los Angeles County had one car per 1.8 residents,(1) a ratio not achieved nationwide until after World War II. This broad ownership transformed the distribution of places of employment, residential patterns and shopping centers.(2) These changes were later intensified by the construction of a 530 mile urban freeway system that began in 1940 with the opening of the Arroyo Seco Parkway and ended in 1993 with the completion of the Century Freeway. It is indeed ironic that in a city whose name is now a universal metaphor for crushing traffic jams and whose character is largely shaped by the automobile, "Uptown Rocker" is one of the few public art installations that pay homage to the car.

Lloyd Hamrol described his design as a "tribute to the car culture. It is meant as a parody of the omnipresence of cars and our addiction to their necessity. The piece captures a moment in a bumper to bumper procession of car symbols as they cycle on the loop of an endless highway. It seems hopeless, but the possibility of escape is offered as the lead car begins a leap toward the Grand Street overpass. Will it make it? The question will never be answered--the hope always remains."(3)

Hamrol placed six identically shaped 7' high x 18' long silhouettes of cars atop a curved, concrete rocker painted freeway color. Painted either red, green, black, gray, yellow and blue, each car provides a striking contrast with the dark somber tones of the nearby buildings. As a counterpoint to the serious, proper corporate atmosphere of Bunker Hill, Hamrol added a touch of humor by suggesting that the red car, which can symbolize "stop" or "danger," is escaping.(4) Hamrol incorporated the curve rocker to break up the straight lines created by the adjacent upright office tower and cross streets. Although appearing to be balanced, the rocker is actually higher on the Grand Avenue side than the Hope Street side. This slight difference creates a sense of movement when driving past it on 4th Street, which Hamrol felt is the best way to view it.

With funds available from the development of Bunker Hill, the Community Redevelopment Agency worked with James Metz, an art consultant and curator, in selecting an artist for the site. Metz invited Masayuki Oda, Eric Orr and Guy Dill, as well as Hamrol to submit proposals. After visiting the designated site, Hamrol initially felt there was little that could be done there. However, he prepared a proposal, which was later judged by the Community Redevelopment Agency staff, representatives from developers of surrounding office projects, and curators from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Municipal Art Gallery and the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art "to be the best solution for the particular site"(5). The original $100,000 contract was later supplemented by an additional $13,642.(6)

Even before its completion, "Uptown Rocker" was donated to the City of Los Angeles by the CRA.(7) Hamrol executed a small version of the work in an edition of 20 after its dedication.(8)


1 "Los Angeles and the Automobile," by Scott L. Bottles, University of California Press, Berkeley, c. 1987, p. 93.

2 "City Center to Regional Mall," Richard Longstreth, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, c. 1997.

3 Artist's Statement, March 13, 1984.

4 Interview of Lloyd Hamrol by Michael Several, July 1, 1987.

5 Memorandum from Edward Helfeld, Administrator, Community Redevelopment Agency to Agency Members, re: Approval of (1) Concept Design and (2) Contract for a work of art with Mr. Lloyd Hamrol to be located at 4th and Lower Grand in the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project, April 4, 1984.

6 "'Uptown Rocker': The Dedication," News Release, Community Redevelopment Agency, July 1, 1986.

7 Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1985; Letter from Fred Croton, General Manager, Cultural Affairs Department, to Edward Helfeld, Administrator, Community Redevelopment Agency, re: acceptance of Hamrol's sculpture as gift; Letter from Edward Helfeld to Maureen Kindel, President, Board of Public Works, re: donation of sculpture to city.

8 Memorandum from John E. Spalding, to John J. Tuite, Administrator, Community Redevelopment Agency, re: Uptown Rocker Maquettes, February 5, 1987.

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

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