Sunday, April 11, 2010

Los Angeles Federal Courthouse

312 North Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

The Los Angeles Federal Courthouse was built between 1937 and 1940. Gilbert Stanley Underwood was the architect of the building. He received a B.A. in 1920 from Yale and in 1923 he earned his M.A. from Harvard. He worked for Union Pacific Railroad building train stations such as Union Station in Omaha. Although he was best known for his National Park Lodges, Underwood designed the Ahwahnee in Yosemite, Bryce and Zion Canyon lodges as well as Grand Canyon Lodge among my others. In 1932 he joined the Federal Architects Project or FAP. He designed over 20 post offices, some of which are part of this project, two federal buildings including the L.A. Courthouse, and a building for the State Department. In the late 40’s he retired yet went on to design Jackson Lodge in Wyoming. Gilbert S. Underwood had set the theme for National Park lodges around the United States. He used natural materials and Native American themes to build rustic lodges that reflected the national park in which they were located. The WPA continued to use his motifs in their projects for the national parks as well.

Prior to the L.A. Federal Courthouse that exists today, two others were built, one from 1889-92 and the other from 1906-10. The rapid expansion of Los Angeles in the early 20th century made it necessary to build a third courthouse that could accommodate the courts and federal agencies. When it was built, the courthouse was designed to house a U.S. Post Office as well as the court. The courthouse was built in a mix of Moderne, and Art Deco styles. The simple, terra-cotta veneer finish to the exterior of the building is Moderne but its clean and sharp edges, along with stepped levels, were common among buildings in the1930’s a common example of the Art Deco Style is the Empire State building.

Much of the art in the courthouse is themed with either justice and government or the history of the Los Angeles area. Archibald Garner made a sculpture of "Law" in the lobby of the courthouse. She is sculpted from limestone and was posed holding a tablet that reads “No law is stronger than is the public sentiment where it is to be enforced –Abraham Lincoln” She is standing across from another sculpture of Abraham Lincoln as a young man. James L. Hansen carved Lincoln. Both sculptures were done in a slightly stylized form fitting the themes in the architecture of the building. One the exterior of the building there are two large emblems of eagles what were cast from Henry Lion’s carvings. They were created 1938 after the building was finished and added to the front on either side of the bank of doors. Henry Lion was a native Californian born in Fresno in 1900. He lived in L.A. worked on many public projects in bronze or stone.

There were three murals that were painted in the courthouse. Edward Biberman painted one of the murals. It depicted Native American Life and Spanish rule of the Los Angeles area. This mural was restored after it was removed from the courthouse but was returned once the restoration was finished. Another artist Lucien Labaudt painted two murals in the courthouse “life on the Old Spanish American Ranchos” painted in 1938 and “Aerodynamism” in 1941. Both murals were also removed and have since been returned to the building in 1993 after restoration.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


On October 29, 1929 the Stock Market crashed, plunging the world into what is called The Great Depression. Before that, the United States was very wealthy from massive industrialization around the turn of the century and war production from WWI. One example of how industrialization lead to Americans economic boom starts with the Ford Motor Company. In 1913 Ford began building cars on a moving assembly line. He also paid his workers a generous $5 a day, which is nearly $110 dollars today. Ford believed that his theory of mass production would fail if the workers couldn’t buy the product they produce. After World War I tourism skyrocketed because the car became accessible to a greater number of people. Oil and gas companies began to appear to fuel the nation. This led to an explosion of jobs and massive economic growth. The next ten years was known as the Roaring 20’s. Americans kept spending money until they began taking out loans on things they couldn’t afford and, just like today, the market crashed, banks failed and the economy shut down. Eventually unemployment was at 25% in the United States. Out of entire population of 123,202,624, over 30 million people were out of work.

President Hoover believed that letting America ride out the depression was the best thing to do while bread lines got longer and Hooverville populations kept growing. Bread lines were set up to provide free food for the unemployed. The homeless built towns of shacks made from scavenged materials and soon the “towns” were named Hoovervilles mocking the president’s failure to act as the economy crashed. The most famous or infamous Hooverville was in Central Park, New York City, but Hoovervilles began appearing up and down the east coast of the Untied States.

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president and two years later in 1935, FDR created the Works Progress Administration or WPA as part of the New Deal. The WPA was created to put America back to work. It brought the United States’ infrastructure into the 20th century. The workers built everything from highways, dams, sewers and schools many of which we still use today. The WPA didn’t just build things, they taught people skills such as tailoring, weaving and sewing. It employed skilled and unskilled workers. Each project was done with local materials and workers to boost the local economy. It provided food, shelter and medical care for people living in the dust bowl states. Traveling libraries brought knowledge to communities that were either too poor or too secluded to have their own. The WPA also jump-started a massive art movement in America. Not only did the WPA support public murals, but also fine arts and performing arts thus putting artist back to work along side engineers and laborers.

Many of the well known and large-scale WPA projects occurred on the East coast of the United States because the most populated cities were there. Here in Los Angeles, there were many projects from the building of the Cahuenga Pass to recreational parks throughout L.A., but the focus in this endeavor will be murals, sculpture and architecture of selected buildings in the L.A. area. Over the next few weeks, information will be posted documenting the history of buildings and the artists who worked on art in these buildings. There was no set artistic style that the WPA used but common themes were local history and glorification of the working class. The murals were designed to inspire Americans to learn, work hard and be American. In a way, a lot of the WPA art was propaganda trying to help pull the United States out of the depression.

With the United States entry in to World War II in 1941 there was a massive increase in jobs as America geared up for war. Slowly as more WPA workers got jobs working with private companies WPA projects were cut back. Finally in 1943 the WPA and many other New Deal programs were shut down.



Bing, Margaret. Brief Overview of the WPA. March 2010.

California Historical Society. California’s Living New Deal Project. 2008. March, April and May 2010.

Census Research for Genealogists. 2008. April 2010.

DeNoon, Christopher. Posters of the WPA. Los Angeles: The Wheatley Press, 1987.

“Djey El Djey”. May 2010

“Deutsch, Boris.” Ask Art The Artists’ Bluebook. May 2010.

Griffith Observatory. “Building Features.”April 2010. Visitor Information. March 2010

Guide to Historic Santa Monica City Hall. City of Santa Monica. May 2010

Hoag, Betty Lockrie. “Oral History Interview with Boris Deutsch, 1964 June 1-5.” Smithsonian Archive of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 1-5 June 1964. April 2010

Hoag, Betty Lockrie. “Oral History Interview with Edward Biberman, 1964 Apr.15.” Smithsonian Archive of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 15 April 1964. May 2010.

Hoag, Betty Lockrie. “Oral History Interview with Henry Lion, 1964 May 21.” Smithsonian Archive of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 21 May 1964. May 2010

IFPDA: International Fine Print Dealers Association. “Fletcher Martine.” 2009. May 2010.

JG Originals. “Brush With Life, The Art of Being Edward Biberman” 2006-2008.

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Michelson, Alan. Pacific Coast Architecture Database (PCAD). 2010. May 2010.

National Park Service. National Park Service the First 75 Years: Biographical Vignettes. 2000. April 2010

O’Connor, Francis V. The New Deal Art Projects An Anthology of Memoirs. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972.

Santa Monica High School. “Visual & Performing Arts Barnum Hall Theatre” May 2010.

Santa Monica Public Library. “Mural by Stanton Macdonald-Wright.” 2008. May 2010.

Sculpture Conservation Studio, Inc and Glenn Wharton and Associates, Inc. “A Survey of Important Sculptures in Los Angeles County.” 25 June 1998. May 2010.

United States. U.S. General Services Administration. U.S. Courthouse, Los Angeles, CA. April 2010.

Vallen, Mark. “Art For A Change.” 23 Feb. 2009. May 2010.

Walker, Alissa. Rise and Sprawl: How Los Angeles Came To Be. 24 Nov. 2009.

Fast Company. April 2010.

Wallach, Ruth. “Public Art in Los Angeles.” April 2010. USC Libraries. March 2010.

Workers of the Writer’s Program of the Works Project Administration in Southern California. Los Angeles a Guide to the City and It’s Environs. New York: Hastings House, 1941.

Zada, Susan. “Edward Biberman and the Painting of the Post Office Mural” Dec. 2007 #314. Free Venice Beachhead. May 2010.