Background Information

1991, Frank Stella. 72'-130'h x 332'l by Architectural Wallcoverings Installation, Inc. 555 W. 5th Street
There are two unique things about "Dusk": its size and its cost. At 35,000 square feet, it is the largest mural in downtown and one of the largest in Los Angeles; and at a cost of approximately $11 million, it is the most costly outdoor mural using paint as a medium in the world.

The Community Redevelopment Agency required a public art component for the 52 story Gas Company Tower. Rather than tapping into the experiences of local artists, Maguire Thomas Partners, the developer of the office tower, sought the services of New York artists.2 The preliminary art plan Maguire Thomas Partners presented to the CRA in 1988 consisted of a curved glass wall designed by James Carpenter at the pedestrian level on Fifth Street between Grand and Hill.3 In addition, the plan included a trellis-like installation designed by Brower Hatcher for the water and landscaped garden on the north end of the site. Both projects, however, were abandoned when the Southern California Gas Company, which was the major tenant of the building, rejected Hatcher's installation and Carpenter had scheduling problems.4

Carpenter then designed an 78-foot long, 9'6" diameter dirigible shaped sculpture of diachronic glass and stainless steel that he called the "Tension Net Sculpture." He proposed that the work hang in the alley between the north side of the Gas Tower and the south wall of the Pacific Bell's microwave station. The work would have hung on a tilt with the uppermost end above the Olive Street side of the garden.5 Though his sculpture was never installed because of cost, Carpenter influenced the design of the Olive Street entry revolver, the planted landscape discs in the back garden, and sections of the wall at the Grand Street entrance.6

In late 1989, after Bower's proposal was rejected by the Southern California Gas Company, Robert Maguire III, the co-principal of Maguire Thomas Partners, contacted Frank Stella about painting a mural on the south wall of the Pacific Bell switching station.7 Stella originally thought the suggestion was crazy because people could not stand back and view it.8

But after painting a 30' x 30' test section in early 1991, Stella accepted a commission for the entire mural.9 Stella made a three dimensional maquette of the design which shows his plan to wrap the mural around the Pacific Bell building along Olive Street and extend it to the vertical metal grill. Pacific Bell, however, wanted the mural to only wrap 3 feet around. Negotiations between the developer and Pacific Bell reached a compromise of 21'.10 Both the Arts Advisory Committee of the CRA and the Los Angeles City Cultural Affairs Commission approved the design. Though the Arts Advisory Committee felt the public should be educated about the mural, they were not concerned about its cost, its short life span of only ten years, its lack of accessibility or its limited visibility to the public.11

Based on Stella's "Moby Dick" series, which concerns motion and travel, the design contains a montage of paper collage, photographs of a metal construction, tape, push pins, and scraps of paper. The title of the work, like the others in the series, comes from a chapter title in Melville's classic.12

Stella's design was transformed into a mural by four painters under the direction of Joseph F. Sansone, of Architectural Wallcoverings Installations, Inc. They outlined the patterns and forms with charcoal, then painted the lines and filled in color with rollers and high volume, low pressure airbrushes. When the mural was being painted, Stella suggested that he should not be identified as the artist because it was a reproduction and not his work. 13

Stella ultimately came to terms with the site. He felt that architectural features in the lobby of the Gas Tower, such as the channels of water and the light fixtures, drew attention to the mural, which he predicted would last for only 10 years.


1. Letter from James R. Anderson, Vice President, Maguire Thomas Partners, to Ed Donnelly, Mickey Gustin, Community Redevelopment Agency, June 1, 1993; Memorandum from Edward J. Avila, Administrator, to Agency Commissioners, re: Approval of Transfer of Partial Art Requirement from Gas Company Tower to Pershing Square, May 6, 1993.

2. "Grand Place Tower Art," Downtown News, November 28, 1988.

3. Minutes, CRA Downtown Arts Advisory Committee Meeting, May 8, 1989.

4. Memorandum from Edward J. Avila, Administrator, Community Redevelopment Agency, to Agency Commissioners, re: Final Art Plan for Gas Company Tower, September 5, 1991.

5. The Gas Company Preliminary Arts Plan, Maguire Thomas Partners, no date.

6. Letter from James Carpenter to Rob Maguire, November 21, 1991.

7. Minutes, CRA Downtown Arts Advisory Committee Meeting, October 10, 1989.

8. "Whaling Wall," by Suzanne Muchnic, Los Angeles Times, Sec. F:1, August 7, 1991.

9. "Maguire Thomas Cries 'Stella'," by Steven Wolf, Downtown News, p. 7, May 13, 1991.

10. Letter from Daniel R. Kingsley, Vice President, Project Management to David H. Simon, President, Cultural Affairs Commission, September 17, 1991; Letter from James R. Anderson, Vice President, Maguire Thomas Partners, to Mickey Gustin, March 18, 1992.

11. Minutes, Arts Advisory Committee Meeting, July 30, 1991.

12. "Whaling Wall," by Suzanne Muchnic, Los Angeles Times, Sec. F:1, August 7, 1991.

13. "Whaling Wall," by Suzanne Muchnic, Los Angeles Times, Sec. F:1, August 7, 1991; "Right Up Stella's Abstract Alley" by Steven Wolf, Downtown News, p. 1, August 12, 1991.

Text provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, October 1998.

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