Lady of the Lake: Echo Park’s beloved statue

the EPHS marking its 20th anniversary this year, we’re using our blog to
celebrate some of our neighborhood’s finest landmarks. One of the most
beloved is the Lady of the Lake, the statue produced in the depths of
the Great Depression by Los Angeles sculptor Ada May Sharpless.

The Art Deco statue, with its gently curving features and Egyptian styling, stands on one of the choicest spots at Echo Park Lake: surrounded by rose bushes, and with a backdrop of the lake and the downtown skyline.  The Lady of the Lake — originally known as Queen of the Angels — also stands on a base that pays loving tribute to L.A.’s landmarks and locales.

Take a closer look: One side has a relief of Los Angles City Hall, which would have opened not too many years before the statue was completed. A second side depicts shows the city at work: agriculture, factories, a railroad line, oil derricks and ships in the L.A. harbor. A third depicts natural spaces: the ocean, hills and
mountains. The fourth shows off the Hollywood Bowl, the San Gabriel Mission, the Central Library and
glorious sunshine.

The Lady of the Lake has traveled a bit over the years. When the
EPHS was formed in 1995, the statue was sitting in a city storage yard,
damaged and hidden from public view. Four years later, then-City
Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, some persistent neighborhood activists and
the EPHS successfully pushed for the statue to be restored and
relocated to a spot near the boathouse.

the lake’s $45 million renovation was completed in 2013, the Lady of
the Lake moved again, to a peninsula not far from the lotus bed. That’s where she first appeared in 1935, the
year the Municipal Arts Commission agreed to place the Art Deco statue
at Echo Park.

Sharpless, born in Hawaii and raised in Orange County, created the Queen of the Angels at a studio at 2970 London Street * in Silver Lake, according to a report in the June 1,1934 issue of the Los Angeles Times. The work was one of many commissioned as part of the federal Public Works of Art Project, part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, which put people back to work during the Depression.

The statue was completed in May 1934 and displayed months later along with the works of nine other artists by the Ebell Art Club. Although it was the centerpiece of the show, it failed to win over one prominent critic: Times art writer Arthur Millier.

Five years earlier, Millier had lavished praise on Sharpless, saying she had submitted the “star piece” of California Art Club’s annual exhibition. But after visiting the Ebell Club’s art salon, he informed readers that Sharpless’ piece lacked much needed subtlety. “It is not her happiest work,” he sniffed. . Perhaps he didn’t like the statue’s deferential posture?

Sharpless, a USC graduate who studied in Paris during the 1920s, soon defended her
work in a letter to Millier, who agreed only to publish tiny excerpts in
the Jan. 27, 1935 edition of his “Brush Strokes” column. In one passage, she accused
Millier of engaging in “superficial and destructive criticism.” She also declared that
the Queen of the Angels was “one of the best pieces of work I have done
so far.”

Despite those rough early days, the Lady of
the Lake went on to captivate visitors to Echo Park lake for decades. On her perch, she is an attraction for park goers looking to rest, relax and maybe capture a few
photographs. Although the neighborhood has gone through many changes over the past 80 years,
the Queen of the Angels stands tall, surveying the park and its many visitors.

To learn more about the Lady of the Lake:

* An LA Times story from 1933 said Sharpless lived at 1142 1/2 Seward St.

A new year for looking forward — and back

Welcome to 2015! This mostly new year has special meaning for the Echo Park Historical Society. That’s because the EPHS has reached its 20th year as a community organization. I have to say, where did the time go?

For those of you who are new to these parts, the EPHS was formed in 1995 by residents who saw something special in many of the neighborhood’s historic features: the lake, the hills, the brick storefronts, the modest bungalows. EPHS volunteers researched old buildings and collected stories from some of Echo Park’s longtime inhabitants. At community events and in promotional brochures, the EPHS talked up Echo Park’s history and its noteworthy places –and the need to preserve them.

In those days, people in Echo Park had big worries about crime, especially the kind that involved gangs. They wanted more street trees, a challenge taken up by the Echo Park Improvement Association. And they wanted more restaurants and amenities. If you can believe it, there was a time when it was difficult to get a take-out cup of coffee in Echo Park.

Now there are plenty of places to find coffee, of course. Talk in the neighborhood has shifted from worries about stuccoing over wood siding — an EPHS pet peeve — to enormous development projects that can wipe out a handful of historic homes in a single swoop. But the EPHS is still kicking, working to highlight the people, places and natural spaces that have made our neighborhood such a great and interesting place.

So how will we celebrate our 20th year? One way will be to remind you of some of Echo Park’s historic places and stories. We’re not just talking about the big ones, like the Jensen’s Recreation Center, which became a historic-cultural monument in 1997 at the recommendation of the EPHS. We also mean that modest cottage on a side street, with an interesting story or just an extra lovely exterior.

And so, onward into 2015.

Jim Schneeweis
Echo Park Historical Society

Join us for an End of Summer Movie Night at Echo Park Lake

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, the Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Echo Park Historical Society will present  the film noir classic  “Sunset Boulevard” – compliments of Paramount Pictures – on Saturday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. at Echo Park Lake. Before the film begins, the EPHS will hold a  meeting and history discussion starting at  6:00 p.m.   
Bring a blanket, chair and your own picnic and enjoy a movie under the stars. The film will be screened in the northwest corner of the park near the Glendale Boulevard and Park Avenue. 
The Echo Park Film Center will screen some short student clips

Sharing Echo Park memories and photos at the Lotus Festival

 Logan Elementary circa 1970. Photo courtesy Eddie Barajas

EPHS volunteers have been busy at this weekend’s Lotus Festival, where our booth and its display of historic photographs and info have attracted a lot of attention. Many newcomers have come by to learn about Echo Park history while many long time and former residents have also stopped to talk about what the neighborhood was like back in their day. In fact, one resident, Eddie Barajas, returned to share a photo taken of Logan Elementary School around 1970  shortly before the building at Logan and Montana streets was torn down and replaced with a new structure.

The photo shows his sister and brother posed by the street sign. Barajas, who has lived in Echo Park for about 50 years, said he remembers that the Logan playground was shut down one time for  the filming of Adam-12.  Thanks for the photo and memories, Eddie!

The booth will remain open until 6 pm today, Sunday, July 13, for the remainder of the Lotus Festival.

Join us at the Echo Park Lake Lotus Festival

The Lotus Festival returns to Echo Park Lake this month, and the Echo Park Historical Society will be there with a display of historic photos. Please be sure to stop by. But, better yet, please help us staff our booth. We are seeking volunteers who can donate two or three hours of their time during on either Saturday or Sunday, July 12 & 13.

Shifts  run from 9 am to 6 pm on Saturday and from 10 am to 5 pm on Sunday. If you can help, please send an email to Let us know what times and dates you are available.

Also, the EPHS will host a 90-minute walking tour on Sunday, July 12 at 2 pm that will include the lake, Angeleno Heights, and some large stairways. See you there!

Party like it’s 1913: Helping an Echo Park bungalow celebrate its 100th birthday

A reproduction of a vintage menu rests on a plate rail inside a 1913 bungalow on Lemoyne Street.

and Daniela moved into an Echo Park home, not long before it reached its 100th
birthday. They graciously agreed to write about the celebration held
in its honor. Here’s their story! — EPHS News
By Talia Inlender and Daniela Gerson
Our Echo Park bungalow turned 100 on Dec. 15, or
sometime thereabouts. The two-bedroom home on Lemoyne
Street, built for Mrs. W.M. Rowland in 1913 at a cost of $1,656.50,
still has many features from its earliest days: wood
windows and clay tiles, wainscoting in the living and dining rooms; a built-in pantry
with leaded glass.


A party guest visits the front porch.

The house,
constructed by the United Building Equipment Company, is nestled on a
hill in the Elysian Vista Scott Tract.
Sitting on the
front porch, it is easy to imagine a quieter Los Angeles, with downtown
still a
short journey away by trolley or jalopy.

We love our home.
Although it’s new to us, it’s one of the older ones in the neighborhood.
When we moved in earlier this year, we knew that a celebration
was in order.

So on December 15, we threw our home a 100th birthday
party. The theme, of course, was 1913. We scoured the Los Angeles Public Library’s
collection of menus and recipes from the era, asking friends to bring dishes
and drinks appropriate to the time. We dined on macaroni croquettes and sand
tarts, and sipped sazerac and boating punch.

We researched movies that were
filmed in or about 1913 – A Noise from the Deep, The Squawman, and Making a
Living (Charlie Chaplin’s first movie). Vaudeville was the soundtrack, made
possible by a Spotify station. Some of our nearest and dearest pulled out their
feather caps, long skirts, and suffragist banners to bring the home’s original
era alive with costumes.

It was a wonderful evening, one that we hope would make
Mrs. Rowland proud of how her house has withstood the test of time. We’re optimistic about the next 100.

Does your home belong to the century club? Tell the EPHS your story!

Things got swinging in the backyard of this 1913 bungalow.

Become a member of the Echo Park Historical Society!

Over the past few weeks, the EPHS presented a few of its gift suggestions for the 2013 holiday season — books, music and videos to stir lovers of history and design.

We showed you glimpses of early Hollywood, from the whimsical location choices of the Three Stooges to the tragic tale of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. We told you about amazing photographs — some depicting the working class lives of Chavez Ravine, others showing the domestic scenes created by Maynard L. Parker.

The holiday season is almost behind us. But there’s always time to provide a much needed gift to the EPHS: a yearly membership with our volunteer organization! The EPHS turned a few years ago from a quarterly newsletter to an email notification system and an online blog. But although we no longer pay out for postage and printing, we still rely on membership dues.

Membership dues helped the EPHS to pursue and secure landmark designations for several important locations: the beatiful Jensen’s Recreation Center, the stately Bank of America building, the lovely Lento brick courtyard apartments on Sunset Boulevard near Dodger Stadium. And of course, there was the crown jewel: a sweeping landmark designation for the cultural landscape that took in Echo Park Lake and its component parts: the bridge, the 1932 Spanish Colonial Revival style boathouse and long suffering lotus bed.

Your membership money has allowed the EPHS to team up with other, nearby neighborhood groups. And it has assisted with the nuts and bolts: the tiny brochures that highlight our neighborhood history; our post office box, web account and insurance policy; even the festive holiday potluck held this month for members.

So make this resolution for the new year: Become a member or just as helpful, renew your membership. At a modest price —  $15 for individuals and $25 for households — it can help a small but dedicated group go a long way!

Click here to join or renew membership.

Echo Park Holiday Gift Guide: Room 1219 and the unsettling story of film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

One of the most unsettling tales to emerge from early Hollywood is the story of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, the silent film star who first made his major work in Edendale, the movie-making hub that encompassed part of present-day Echo Park. Arbuckle’s career came to an abrupt end after he was implicated in the death of aspiring actress Virginia Rappe in 1921.

That story is the subject of Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood, published earlier this year. Author Greg Merritt revisits the circumstances that led to the meeting of Arbuckle and Rappe in a San Francisco hotel on a Labor Day weekend and tries to learn just what happened.

“My aim has been to peel away the accumulated fictions and present the true story of one of the neglected giants of cinema, an unfairly pilloried woman, and the greatest of all Hollywood scandals. This is a mystery story, but it’s much more than that.”
Merritt shows us the business of early Hollywood while retracing the lives of Rappe and Arbuckle. Although he inaccurately puts Keystone Studios in present-day Silver Lake instead of Echo Park, Merritt gives a fine overview of Arbuckle’s days in Edendale — first at Selig Polyscope, then under director Mack Sennett at Keystone — before he moved on to the big time with Paramount Pictures.
Room 1219 introduces us to others in Arbuckle’s orbit: Arbuckle’s wife, the silent movie actress Minta Durfee; Arbuckle’s nephew, the silent film performer Al St. John; and rising star Buster Keaton, who started his movie career in Arbuckle comendies and became one of Arbuckle’s most ardent defenders.
Those stories are interwoven with the drama that plays out in San Francisco: a horrific death after an impromptu party; a prosecutor’s decision to file murder charges; the newspapers that had a feeding frenzy over the case — and reached a verdict long before a jury; the sudden ban on screenings of Arbuckle’s movies.
Room 1219 can be ordered from such book sellers as Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park and Skylight Books in Los Feliz, as well as online company Amazon.
To get a taste of Merritt’s work, here’s a fine Q and A from the the classic film blog Out of the Past.

Colonel Griffith’s Observatory

On December 16th, 1896, Griffith J. Griffith donated 3,015 acres of the Los Feliz Rancho to the city of Los Angeles, creating the largest urban woodland park in the country.

Today, Griffith Park and the Griffith Observatory are popular destinations for the people of Los Angeles, but the story of their donor is largely unknown to the millions of visitors who make use of his gifts.

In the latest installment of our ongoing video series about the History of Echo Park and Los Angeles, we venture afield to tell the story of “Colonel Griffith’s Observatory.”

Featuring Mike Eberts, author of “Griffith Park: A Centennial History”

Echo Park Holiday Gift Guide: Chavez Ravine, 1949

Chavez Ravine, 1949: A Los Angeles Story

If you have lived in Echo Park for a serious length of time, you probably long for some kind of time capsule, one that holds dozens, maybe even hundreds, of photographs of our neighborhood: its people, its buildings, its landscape, its mementos. Those images would reveal the things that have disappeared over the decades that we can’t quite remember clearly or missed out on entirely.

Chavez Ravine, the area next to Elysian Park where Dodger Stadium now stands, was obliterated in the 1950s. But it has lived on as a sort of symbol of the cruelty of mid-20th century urban renewal. Fortunately for L.A., a time capsule from that community does exist, one created by a 20-year-old from Seattle.

In 1949, photographer Don Normark spent months taking pictures of the working-class, largely Mexican-American neighborhood of Chavez Ravine. The already talented photographer, who went on to work for Sunset Magazine and other publications, had no idea at the time that the village of around 300 families would soon be erased. In 1997, Normark showed a stack of 100 photographs to the former denizens of Chavez Ravine, allowing them to reacquaint themselves with a neighborhood that lived only in their memories.

The result was Chavez Ravine, 1949: A Los Angeles Story, a captivating book of interviews and black-and-white photos on the neighborhood that was razed, first to make way for housing projects, then a major league sports stadium.

The images in Chavez Ravine, 1949 show slices of life: a goat grazing on a hillside; a schoolgirl in her confirmation dress; a man repairing a tire; children outside Palo Verde School, which was shuttered and then entombed in dirt, covered up completely as Dodger Stadium was constructed.

Chavez Ravine, 1949 can be bought or ordered from such booksellers as Stories in Echo Park and Skylight Books in Los Feliz.  For those looking to delve deeper, there is a 24-minute documentary available on DVD, which has appeared previously on public television.

Also available is Chavez Ravine: A Record by Ry Cooder, the album that serves both as a tribute to the neighborhood and a trip through 1950s Los Angeles — the Red Scare, UFO sightings and the characters that populated the city: real estate developer Fritz Burns, architect Richard Neutra, LAPD Chief William H. Parker.

Released by Nonesuch Records, Cooder’s 15-track album features a wide range of musicians and performers from East Los Angeles and elsewhere. Its songs are in English and Spanish, recreating the stories about the neighborhood swept away, first to make a (never built) public housing project, then a major league stadium.

On his record label’s web site, the guitarist, singer and composer said he misses aspects of old L.A. — “the texture of certain older neighborhoods, like Bunker Hill, a rural feel in urban places, like Chávez Ravine and the timbre of life there, and just peace and quiet.”

Finally, Cooder also explores the city’s past in “Los Angeles Stories,” his first collection of fiction. The tales are set in the 1940s and 1950s in some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. As he promoted the book last year, Cooder mused on the way things rapidly disappear in L.A.

“I don’t know any place as susceptible to this as Los Angeles,” he told the L.A. Weekly. “You can go away for two weeks or five days. When you come back, it’s ‘Where did that corner go? Where did that tree go?'”