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Going for the Gold: California Stories on the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: Communities, Public Art, and Placemaking.: 05. Jud Fine, Stone Tree, Highland Park Station

The project was funded in 2008-2009 by the California Council for the Humanities through its California Stories: California Story Fund


Stone Tree Inverted Post (Copper Bound Water Light), 2003

Jud Fine

The title describes four of the five elements of Jud Fine’s installation at the Highland Park Station: 1) an 18’ high x 16’ wide “Stone Tree,” 2) two inverted canopy support posts serving as light posts, 3) 1” diameter copper cable wire wrapped around the stone tree, and 4) 3’5” diameter blue fiberglass globe lights representing water atop the two inverted canopy support posts.[1]  The unnamed fifth element comprises the platform benches.[2] 

This installation shows how a common theme can be conceived in different ways by the same artist.  It is a story of how artistic expression is impacted by community input, changes in the physical space, budget limitations, and the evolution of individual visual motifs.  This story begins in early 1993, when Metro Art, the department responsible for implementing the public art policy of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), held a series of meetings in Highland Park to inform the community about the three stations planned for their area.[3]  These stations were to be located at the Southwest Museum, Avenue 51, and Avenue 57.  At the meetings, people were invited to participate in the art creation process by joining the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) that was being established.  During the summer of 1993, the CAC prepared a Community Profile of the neighborhoods surrounding the three stations, and then elected two members to the five member Artist Selection Panel that chose the stations’ artists.  At its first meeting on November 22 1993, the panel reviewed the slides of all the artists in Metro Art’s artist registry, and then created a list of 34 semi-finalists.  At the second meeting on December 1, the panelists evaluated the semi-finalists in greater detail and selected seven finalists.[4]  On December 9, the panel interviewed the finalists[5] and then choose Teddy Sandoval for the Southwest Museum Station, Diane Gamboa for Avenue 50, and Jud Fine for the Avenue 57 Station. 

Within a week after being selected, the three artists began meeting with the stations’ architect, Lance Bird from the La Cañada Design Group, and the station’s landscape architect, Lauren Melendez to develop concepts for the aesthetics of the stations.[6]  The artists suggested that the canopies should be painted in bright colors to enhance their visibility from nearby hillside homes.  They also suggested that more light be brought into the station platforms by installing translucent material or glass in the canopies.  In addition, they suggested that brightly colored paving be incorporated in the station platforms.[7] Specifically with the Highland Park station, Fine worked with the La Cañada Design Group in designing a canopy with a stainless steel reflective surface.[8] 

Fine’s initial concept for the art at the station was built around the theme of celebrating the community.  He began working on the design at a time when memories of the 1992 Rodney King riots still hung over the city.  Blending a celebration of the people in the community with a response to that traumatic event, Fine proposed a gargoyle be placed at the end of each of the four curving arms extending out from the top of the 15 canopy and freestanding posts that were planned for the station.[9]  The 60 gargoyles, serving as a symbolic or spiritual force protecting riders, were to have 10 basic images: a harried business man, a Buddha with wings, a small child with angel wings but a devilish smile, a coyote combined with a red-tailed hawk, Quetzalcoatl, an African, a California newt with eggs on a twig, a coyote as a trickster, a figure combining an alligator, lizard and cat emerging from a television, and a carpenter.[10]  These images were to be fabricated in six different materials—stainless steel, cast iron, bronze, fiberglass, natural high-fire stoneware, and glazed high-fired stoneware, making each gargoyle appear unique.[11]  Functioning as water spouts with water spraying out of their mouth when it rained, the gargoyles became a contested space over the representation of the community.  Fine thought the images represented the nearby residents in a humorous way but some people in the community complained that they were mocked and made fun of by the gargoyles.[12]

Fine’s initial design for the art component also included images on the platform of two common garden snakes, shaped by colored interlocking pavers, facing each other with one consuming a mouse.[13]  According to Fine, he incorporated snakes in the design because they are in the myths of many cultures and therefore have a universal relevance.[14]  He also felt that the community surrounding the station was sensitized to the use of snakes because it was a common motif found in nearby murals.  In addition, Fine thought, the curves in the snake would reinforce the serpentine shaped ramps designed to connect the platform with the adjacent streets. 

Fine wanted to “give the entire site, including an adjacent parking lot, a defined identity, while still maintaining its integration within its surrounds.”[15]  He proposed doing this by dispersing throughout the site 18 columns of various heights and widths.  He also wanted to embellish the columns with wrappings that would have captured the colors, architecture and materials of the area.  These columns were to be organized into three groups of six columns each.  Initially the groups were:  1) “found or existent”, which would consists of existing telephone poles, lamp posts, and others found in the area; 2) “growth”, which would be types of trees found in the area, such as the Italian Cypress, and giant Cactus; and 3) “built” would be posts specifically designed and built by the artist.[16]  Fine also considered extending the line of posts holding up the canopy by placing the 18 columns in a straight line on the platform.  In this line-up, the three categories were slightly different.  He kept the “found or existent” and “built” categories, but he substituted six pre-cast standard columns for the “growth” category.  This string of columns was to have a planter at the base of each, from which ivy would grow and cover the columns.  Fine also wanted to put a primary column at the stations entrance on Avenue 56 that would have had a number of gargoyles at the top.[17] 

Fine also proposed to connect his installation with the community by installing interlocking brick pavers in the crosswalks of the adjacent streets with an image of a howling wolf in one crosswalk and the representation of a Gabrielino in the other.  This component, however, was eliminated from the plans because of cost.  By late 1995, when construction of the light rail stopped because of cost overruns, Fine’s proposed installation consisted of the 18 wrapped columns, gargoyles on the canopy, and the snakes on the platform.[18] 

With the resumption of construction by the newly formed Pasadena Blue Line Authority (PBLA), Fine entered into a new contract in early 2001.  He faced a significantly different situation from when he last worked on the project in 1995.  The Highland Park station had been redesigned during the containment period and had a standardized canopy.  In contrast to the period when the MTA was responsible for the construction, Fine was given a defined budget.  He still wanted to celebrate the community, however, he wanted to “materialize it in a different way.”[19]

“Stone Tree . . .” is a fusion of community input, Fine’s imagination, his knowledge of Craftsman Style architecture, and his commitment to celebrate the surrounding community.  According to Fine, the community wanted the craftsman style honored in the installation.  He noticed that this style, which helps define the residential character of Highland Park, had three basic materials: stone from the Arroyo, usually put in the foundations; wood used in large beams and treated so it maintains the character of the original tree; and copper fittings.  Combining references to these materials with the form of a tree, he felt he honored the Craftsman Style without resorting to easily recognized architectural images.  Fine said he imagined it as a natural boulder in the shape of a tree,[20] while Lesley Elwood of Elwood and Associates, the art consultant for the PBLA, described it, as “rearticulating the basic materials of the craftsman style.”[21]  The “Stone Tree” is the focal point for the station, with branches metaphorically reaching out to the rest of Los Angeles.  The tree was fabricated on site by Rock and Waterscape, which makes rocks and trees for theme parks.  After the tree was installed, there were some complaints in the community about its relevance to Highland Park.  But the connection became apparent to the critics when coincidently to the installation, the Los Angeles City tree crew trimmed two large ficus trees near the station on Avenue 58, which made them look like the “Stone Tree.”[22]

Fine collaborated with Fred Glick, the landscape architect, who proposed a fountain in the area between the east side of the station and the pergola next to the street.  Fine wanted to put his “Stone Tree” in the fountain.[23]  But after the fountain was eliminated from the plans because of the cost of engineering, construction, and maintenance, Fine and Glick designed a planter to make the “Stone Tree” look like a large bonsai plant.  This appearance was weakened, however, because details that Glick wanted in the planter were eliminated.[24]

“Copper Bound,” which refers to the copper used in the fittings of Craftsman styled homes, is the one-inch thick wire wrapped nine times around the “Stone Tree.”   The tree seems to be alive by appearing to have grown around the wire.  This effect can also be seen from the growth around the fencing of the live ficus trees lining Avenue 58 between the station and Figuroa.  The wrapping of copper wire was conceived to be a “common thread” linking the stone tree with the inverted posts.  However, Fine tried wrapping the wire around a post before installation but discarded the idea because it did not look good.[25]       

“Inverted Posts” evolved from a project Fine was involved in at the Nestles Corporation building in Glendale where he proposed a mythical tree of life with the branches in the earth and roots in the heaven fed by the spirituality from above. Fine took this concept to the Highland Park Station as a counterpoint to the “Stone Tree” which reaches out to the entire region with its extended branches getting strength from its roots in the community.[26]  He saw the canopy posts, with their splayed curved arms, as suggesting a tree.  By turning the posts upside down, Fine converted them into abstract trees with truncated branches buried into the concrete benches located at opposite ends of the platform.  These extended arms, which prop up the inverted post on each bench, were cut to form the bench arm rests.   The arm rests, and the four tube steel canopy and inverted posts were made by Paramount Metal and Supply Company.[27]

Blue acrylic globes, suggesting water, rest on the pre-cast concrete base blocks at the top of the inverted posts.  These two 3’6” diameter bulbs are titled “Water Light” and are illuminated at night making the inverted posts into light columns.  In addition the art plan originally called for a 3.5’ diameter blue fiberglass half-globe that was to be installed in the planter next to the stone tree.[28]  At night, the lit half dome would have extended this visual metaphor for both water and light.[29]  However, the installation in the planter was eliminated because of cost and anticipated maintenance problems.[30]   

Fine’s design went through an extensive governmental review process.  It was first reviewed by the Los Angeles City Cultural Affairs Art Committee in February 2001, then approved by the public art committee of the Cultural Affairs Commission in August 2001, and finally by the Cultural Affairs Commission in May 2002.[31]   The design also went through a thorough community approval process that began in June 2001, when the artwork was presented at a community open house.  The design was also presented at a community meeting at the Southwest Museum.[32]  Because the work is in a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), it also went through an extensive HPOZ review before the board of the HPOZ signed off on the design in March 2002.[33]  On May 10, 2003 the art and the station were dedicated.

Jud Fine (1944 - ) was born in Los Angeles, received his BA in History from UC, Santa Barbara in 1966 and his MFA in sculpture from Cornell in 1970.  Fine is a Professor of Art at the University of Southern California.  His paintings, drawings, and sculpture have been exhibited in individual and group shows in both the United States and abroad and are in the collections of major museums, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York.  One of his major public art installations in Southern California is “Spine” at the west entrance of the Los Angeles Public Library.  His recent public art commissions, which involve collaboration with Barbara McCarren, have been installed in San Francisco, Sacramento, Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Modesto.

[1] Public Art Program, Los Angeles to Pasadena Construction Authority,  March 13, 2002 and July 15, 2003.

[2] Jud Fine, interview by Michael Several, February 23, 2009.

[3] Southwest Museum, Avenue 51 and Avenue 57 Blue Line Sstation A-R-T Schedule of Meetings, no date.

[4] Pasadena Blue Line A-R-T Short List 12.1.93, Southwest Museum, Avenue 51 & Avenue 57 Stations.

[5] Metro Pasadena Blue Line Art for Rail Transit, Southwest Museum, Avenue 51 & Avenue 57 Stations, Finalist Interviews, December 9, 1993.

[6] Fine, Op. Cit.

[7] Project Note, La Cañada Design Group, December 16, 1993.

[8] Regarding the Design Team; Avenue 57 Metro Station, Highland Park, from Jud Fine, March 1994.

[9] Alan Nakagawa, interview by Michael Several, June 4, 2008; Fine interview, Op.Cit.

[10] Gargoyle call-out; Avenue 57 Metro Station, Highland Park, Pasadena Blue Line, no date.

[11] Regarding the Design Team; Avenue 57 Metro Station, Highland Park, Jud Fine, March 1994.

[12] Nakagawa, Op. Cit.

[13] Regarding the Design Team; Avenue 57 Metro Station, Highland Park, Jud Fine, March 1994; Fine interview, Op. Cit.

[14] Nakagawa, Op. Cit.

[15] Regarding the Design Team; Avenue 57 Metro Station, Highland Park, Jud Fine, March 1994.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Fine interview, Op. Cit.

[18] Artist Meeting Notes, Status of Artwork Design, November 2000.

[19] Fine interview, Op. Cit.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Lesley Elwood, interview by Michael Several, August 28, 2008.

[22] Fine interview, Op. Cit.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Fine interview, Op. Cit.

[26] Public Art Program, Los Angeles to Pasadena Construction Authority, July 15, 2003, Op. Cit.

[27] Fine interview, Op. Cit.

[28] Letter from Jud Fine to Robert Holmquist, September 30, 2001.

[29] Consultation Report, Sculpture Conservation Studio, re: Review of proposed fabrication and materials, December 5, 2001.

[30] Email from Jud Fine to Michael Several, re: Water Light, March 2, 2009.

[31] Agenda, Cultural Affairs Commission, May 2, 2002.

[32] Community Review, handwritten list from Lesley Elwood, no date.

[33] Meeting Minutes, Highland Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, March 21, 2002; Elwood, Op. Cit.