Most towns and cities have a centrally located public space, usually a commons or a park, where residents can gather and observe such holidays as the Fourth of July. Los Angeles has its beaches.
Stretching from Malibu to Long Beach, the beaches are a pedestrian paradise, where in a rare communal spirit people not only walk, they strut, jog, exercise, swim and generally let it all hang out, and then some.
The beaches are, in effect, Los Angeles' sand-covered public plazas, a seemingly unending strip of delights that, though not centrally located, provide a unique sense of community, a place where people can congregate to celebrate a holiday, a day off, or any day.
Plazas traditionally also are places where public art is displayed, be it a fountain or a piece of sculpture. But at the beach no fountain can compete with the ocean, especially when the surf is up.
However, sculpture pieces can be fun, especially if they utilize their settings of sand, water, tides, breezes and views. One of my first experiences in architecture, and criticism, was building a sand castle and then watching the tides take it out to sea.
It was with this in mind that I recently went to the beach in Santa Monica to view and experience a sculpture created by environmental artist Douglas Hollis entitled "Singing Beach Chairs."
Consisting of a pair of sturdy, concrete encrusted elevated beach chairs with 14-foot-high stainless steel tubes rising out of the back of them, the sculpture is the first installation in a so-called natural elements sculpture park established by the Santa Monica Arts Commission (Smarts).
The chairs, which cost $17,000 to create and are located approximately between Lifeguard Stations 17 and 18, just northwest of the foot of Pico Boulevard, are a delight to view, climb and sit in.
You also are supposed to hear them, the stainless steel tubes in theory having been positioned so that when the wind blows they produce melodic sounds.
But despite a gusty 20-mile-an-hour wind blowing off the ocean when I was there, all I could hear was a faint moan from the set of tubes on the north chair. The south set did not even hum along, apparently refusing to compete with the crashing of the surf and the enthused dialogue of Smarts executive director Henry Korn.
While climbing over the chairs--they happily invite such activity--Korn explained the sculpture park's concept of integrating and using natural elements with art. "Our goal is to showcase participatory public sculptures that extend the beach experience."
The next sculpture park attraction scheduled this fall is Carl Cheng's so-called art tool, a large roller whose surface indentations will print on the sand a varied, miniature cityscape of houses, streets cars and gardens.
Also extending the beach experience in Santa Monica is the venerable pier at the foot of Colorado Avenue, a short walk north from the "singing" chairs. While slowly, painfully undergoing restoration, the pier is offering some temporary attractions that hint of the landmark's colorful past and, hopefully, a bright future.
Clustered south behind the vintage carrousel and its handsome hand-carved wooden horses is the Funzone, featuring a ferris wheel and a variety of modest rides for young children. My son Josef, at 27 months, loved them, though at 50 cents for less than a two minute ride (the ferris wheel is $1), the total can add up.
While the oceanfront setting, of course, overwhelms all, the private rides and the public art do enliven it with a community spirit that for me makes the beach a most engaging place to be in Los Angeles, especially on a holiday weekend.