MAIN STREET — The Landmarks Commission will consider preserving the former studio of a world-renowned visual artist on Monday night.
James Turrell, whose work was featured in a large Los Angeles County Museum of Art retrospective earlier this year, developed some of his first light projections – for which he is now known – at the brick building on Main and Hill streets in the Ocean Park neighborhood. Today, the brick building features a Starbucks.
Built in 1913, the Mendota Block building, as it is now called, was constructed as a mixed-use commercial building with shops on the lower floors and a long-term hotel and apartment on the upper floor.
“The tenants over the years included short-term vacationers and long-term blue and white collar workers as well as retirees and widows,” according to a report from a city consultant.
A pharmacy operated out of the lower floor until the mid-1950s. Another storefront saw businesses come and go including “a spring water business, dry goods shop, a canvas shop, and for a short time a reading room called the Townsend Club #2,” the report said.
“Following World War II,” the report said, “the area began to change and the redevelopment of Ocean Park between 1957 and 1964 involved the removal of many small hotels, flophouses, apartment buildings, stores, and other structures.”
By the late 1950s and early 1960s the commercial spaces were vacant with some tenants still living upstairs.
Turrell bought the space in 1966, living on the second floor and turning the ground floor into his studio and exhibit space.
Today, Turrell is known for his international exhibitions and his ongoing work on a crater in the Arizona desert.
He lived in the Main Street space, which he dubbed the “Mendota Hotel,” until 1974 when he moved to Arizona.
It was in the “Mendota Hotel” that he developed some of his first significant light projections, which were called the “Mendota Stoppages.”
“By covering the windows of his studio spaces and only allowing prescribed amounts of light in from outside to come through the openings he created his first light projection art pieces there,” the consultant’s report explained.
These “Mendota Stoppages” projects were Turrell’s first attempt at connecting inside and outside spaces, the report said.
They “were conceptualized in terms of one space ‘sensing’ the light quality present in another,” the report said. “They were part installation and part performance piece (in a sense they were performed by the light in the environment), and they involved the incorporation of his entire studio into the art.”
For this reason, the artwork was very site-specific, raising the historical value of the already aesthetically-notable space. There have been some alterations to the building over the years, including the addition of awnings, the remodeling of interiors, and the relocation of a side door.
“The Mendota Block building despite the alterations along the ground floor level of the structure is a very good and prominent example of an early vernacular commercial style property with classical influences,” city officials said in a report to the commission. “The subject property retains the majority of its primary character-defining features on the exterior is only one of a handful of extant examples of early commercial architecture in the immediate area and community at-large.”
The commission will consider the property on Monday.