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Getting a Splash From the Past

Neglected for decades, refurbished Streamline Moderne-style fountain is greeting visitors to the Hollywood Bowl.

June 20, 2006|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Memories of Hollywood's elegant era flowed along with dancing water Monday night as a huge hillside fountain at the entrance to the Hollywood Bowl was brought back to life after more than three decades of neglect.

The Streamline Moderne-style fountain was built in 1940 by the sculptor best known for creating the Academy Awards' Oscar statue. Standing over the bowl's Highland Avenue entryway, it depicts the muses of music, dance and drama.

The 200-foot long, 22-foot high sculpture was heralded as one of America's most ambitious art projects in 1939 when artists and craftsmen hired by the federal government for the Depression-era WPA Federal Arts Project began constructing it.

But in more recent years, it has been more of a symbol of Hollywood decay.

Ponds built into the base of the sprawling statue leaked the few times its antique pump and pipe system was turned on. Its nighttime lighting was temperamental.

Overgrown by trees and shrubs that were used by birds who coated much of the sculpture with droppings, the fountain sculpture was all but unnoticed by bowl patrons and passersby on the nearby Hollywood Freeway. Those who did spot it were more likely to dismiss it as a crumbling remnant to a bygone day than as an icon.

But now, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, renovation is "symbolic of the renaissance of arts and culture in Los Angeles. It takes us back to another time but points us to the future."

Arvind Manocha, vice president and general manager of the Bowl, said: "The lighting was in total disrepair. The plumbing needed replacing. And part of the reason I think people haven't paid attention to it is because it was obstructed and overgrown.

"When it was built, there was a conscientious decision to put it at the gateway to Hollywood, the top of Highland Avenue," Manocha said. "The bowl is where the worlds of drama, music and dance came together. This is now going to reemerge as one of the signature Hollywood artworks. Lots of people have wondered what happened to the George Stanley fountain. Now they're going to see that it's better than ever."

Stanley was commissioned in 1937 to design the fountain by the Hollywood Bowl Assn. and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the federally financed, $125,000 construction project. As owner of the bowl, the county paid an estimated $1,000 to launch the work.

Stanley was already a well-known Hollywood artist who liked to joke that he became a sculptor by accident.

He had been studying at the Otis Art Institute in 1924 in hopes of becoming a commercial artist when he received a part-time job as a school "monitor" whose chief duty was to keep sculpture department modeling clay wet. That job prompted him to experiment with the clay. Playing around, he discovered he had a knack for molding images.

He went on to win sculpture commissions for wealthy Beverly Hills residents, the classic Isaac Newton statue at Griffith Park and artwork for such places as Hoover High School in Glendale and Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Commercial pieces included bas reliefs over the downtown Los Angeles telephone company headquarters and Bullocks Wilshire department store.

His most widely seen piece was only 13 1/2 inches tall, however.

Stanley was the sculptor who molded the original movie Oscar statue. He used a napkin sketch of a man standing on a reel of film grasping a sword that was drawn in 1927 by studio art director Cedric Gibbons.

For his Hollywood Bowl entryway, Stanley depicted the 15-foot kneeling, harp-strumming "Muse of Music" crowning the fountain. Smaller, 10-foot muses of dance and drama stand in niches on the sides to symbolize the concert shell's other activities.

Besides forming a dramatic entrance that helped capture some of the lines of the Hollywood Bowl, the huge sculpture -- built from concrete and covered with slabs of decorative granite -- created a retaining wall that tamed a steep hillside north of the bowl's entry drive.

Nearly 250 tons of lightly polished granite quarried near Victorville were used on the multitiered monument.

The stone that Stanley selected turned out to be high quality.

"The granite was in good condition. We were lucky -- it didn't start falling apart, it held," said Mark Rios, whose Hollywood-based Rios Clementi Hale Studios oversaw the four-month renovation effort. "This is one of Hollywood's good-luck stories."

The muses' faces had also survived time and the elements well, Rios said.

"The original art was very well-done. It combined Hollywood set design and construction. The forms were crisp and beautiful. It was nicely done to begin with. What we did was microsurgery -- trying to do as little damage as possible, trying not to expedite its deterioration in any way."

That was good news to Stanley's son and family. Maitland Stanley traveled from the San Francisco area for Monday's fountain rededication ceremony.

Stanley, 78, remembers watching his father -- who died in 1970 -- hanging from a window-washing sling as he carved the music muse with an air hammer.

"I'm glad they cut the trees away. My wife, Peggy, came down here one year with gardening shears to cut back the bushes so you could see my dad's name carved on the side."

Officials said the $1.9-million renovation project -- which includes a new marquee designed to match modern electronics with Stanley's sculpture lines -- is meant to fit the image of old-time Hollywood.

People will see it and ask, "Has that always been there?" one predicted.

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