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Plan Would Bring Back Grandeur of Old City Hall

November 19, 1988|TED VOLLMER | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council on Friday endorsed in principle a $6-million plan to recapture the early splendor of City Hall now buried beneath layers of yellowing wax, browning varnish and haphazard paint jobs.

If the joint public-private venture is successful, a giant chandelier gathering dust in a City Hall basement for more than 50 years will once again hang proudly from the Spring Street rotunda and six bronze elevator cars will again transport visitors through the building's 28-story tower.

The City Council's unanimous approval of the restoration effort's conceptual blueprint came with little discussion. Final designs are expected to be produced by mid-1989 and only then can the rehabilitation begin, after further council review.

Only $1.2 Million on Hand

Project Restore has only $1.2 million, or about 20% of the funds estimated, for the restoration effort, said Katherine Moret, the project director. The largest amounts--$300,000 each--came from the city and the office of State Historic Preservation and $40,000 came from the National Endowment of the Arts. Other funds have come through private donations, she said. Moret said future funding will be sought from the same sources.

The $6-million restoration is $1 million more than the entire City Hall cost to build in 1928. It will focus on those areas--both inside and out--where the public most often congregates, including the entrances on Main and Spring streets and their adjacent corridors.

After studying original photos, drawings and old news clippings of when City Hall opened in 1928, Moret and others concluded that while many areas of the historic building need little attention to recover "their originally intended grandeur," there are notable exceptions.

The Project Restore staff found that in many places the original colors were "inappropriately" enhanced or altered and that layers of yellowing wax and darkening varnish had made some corridors bleak and dark. The restoration plans call for massive cleaning of these areas, new lighting and touch-up painting.

Removal, Relocation

In addition to the rehabilitation of older features of City Hall, the restoration effort also envisions removal or replacement of more modern ones. Newsstands, signs, ash trays, stamp machines, trash cans, telephones, bus information booths and wheelchair ramps would either be removed, relocated to other areas or modified to blend in more with the Neo-Classical architecture, Moret said.

"The phone booths look like they were pulled out of a corner gas station," said Moret, offering an example of a feature that would be altered so as not to clash.

The Project Restore plan also calls for possibly moving some of the ongoing exhibits that have been featured in the Rotunda to an exhibit hall away from the main pedestrian traffic and possibly reinstalling public benches in the hallways for foot-weary visitors.

Two prominent features long ago removed from City Hall service--the six bronze elevator cabs and giant chandelier--may be reinstalled if the money can be found. Moret said the chandelier, removed in the wake of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, has been discovered, intact, in a City Hall basement storage area.

Replacing the elevators with the bronze elevator cars featured in City Hall when it opened, may be more difficult, Moret said. All but one of those cars is missing and making reproductions would cost about $1 million, she said.

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