Vermonica: The Original Vintage Los Angeles Streetlight Exhibit

Vermonica

The Original Vintage Los Angeles Streetlight Exhibit

The best vintage streetlight art installation in Los Angeles isn’t at LACMA. No, the best public art focused on historic street lamps is called Vermonica and this Urban Candelabra now sits along the border of Silver Lake and East Hollywood.

Everyone knows about Urban Light, Chris Burden’s 202-piece streetlight installation that’s marked one entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (and one of the museum’s exhibits anyone can visit for free) since 2008.

Urban Light detail. Photo from the author’s collection.

But Urban Light (which is right across the street from the Berlin Wall Segments Marker) is not the first such art installation in Los Angeles. Nor is it the best. Both of those distinctions belong to Sheila Klein’s Vermonica.

Vermonica Realized

Way back in 1993, artist Sheila Klein had an idea to honor a mostly overlooked aspect of life in the city of Los Angeles — that of streetlight design. Klein’s original idea was to place a series of historic streetlights along scenic Mulholland Drive or in the Baldwin Hills area. But those initial plans became too mired in bureaucracy (a commodity Los Angeles has in abundance).

But then someone at the Department of Cultural Affairs suggested the parking lot of an otherwise unremarkable strip mall in East Hollywood at the corner of Vermont and Santa Monica (hence the installation’s name — such portmanteaus are common across the city).

Not only was the mall in the process of being rebuilt (from damage suffered during the L.A. Riots in 1992), it also just happened to be located a short distance from where the Bureau of Street Lighting stored all sorts of streetlight parts, including lamp posts.

Vermonica as seen in 2016. Photo from the author’s collection.

The Vermonica in this parking lot was a selection of 25 streetlights from the City of Los Angeles (loaned to Klein by the Bureau of Street Lighting). The installation was a representative sample of the more than 400 different streetlight styles (both historic and current) that have been used throughout the City of Los Angeles.

Note this was 15 years before LACMA would host Chris Burden’s Urban Light (making one wonder where Mr. Burden found his inspiration).

Initially, Klein intended for the project to be on display for one year. But the community enjoyed this work at the intersection of public art and history being on display in an unassuming parking lot. As a result, Vermonica stood, undisturbed, for nearly 25 years.

Then one day in late 2017, Vermonica just disappeared.


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Vermonica Removed

On a fateful day in November 2017, Sheila Klein received an email asking where Vermonica had gone (as reported by our friends at Esotouric). This vanishing was news to the artist. After a few inquiries, she learned it had been removed at the request of the parking lot’s owner (in advance of a pending redesign).

The Bureau of Street Lighting reclaimed their light poles and relocated the entire set to the lawn in front of the Bureau’s office a few blocks to the east. She wasn’t consulted or informed and, as such, went on record explaining, “this is not my piece and it is no longer Vermonica.”


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Vermonica Reborn

After public outcry (spurred on by a massive email campaign from Richard Schave and Kim Cooper of the aforementioned Esotouric) about the ignominious treatment of Vermonica, Klein secured a contract to rebuild the artwork under her guidance along Santa Monica Boulevard (at Lyman Place), adjacent to the Bureau of Street Lighting.

The new artist-approved Vermonica. Long may she reign. Photo from the author’s collection.

The initial plan was to have the installation completed by May 27, 2020 (which would have been the project’s 27th birthday), but the pandemic got in the way and work on the restoration was delayed. The new Vermonica, which is 3 feet wide, 120 feet long, and 30 feet tall, was installed with Klein’s supervision and triumphantly unveiled in November 2020.

The full Vermonica. Photo from the author’s collection.

Each light pole has an small metal plaque identifying the materials the corresponding lamp post is constructed from and where its design was once (and in some cases still is) located in the city.

Today, anyone can visit the new Vermonica and take a self-guided tour of this important piece of art to get a glimpse of the fabric of the city that most people take for granted. Of the project, Klein states, ” [it] references the intimate household scale of candlesticks into an urban-scaled candelabra for the household of the city.”

If you haven’t seen Vermonica (in either incarnation), you may still be familiar with Klein’s work if you ride the Metro B Line (what most of us know as the Red Line) into Hollywood. Klein’s Underground Girl, a station-sized abstract representation the interior female anatomy, is incorporated into the Hollywood/Highland Station.

To see more work by Sheila Klein, visit sheilaklein.com. To learn more about Vermonica, visit vermonica.com.

Vermonica Virtual

If you want to learn more about Vermonica, visit A Love Letter to Los Angeles Streetlights (1867-2021), put on by Esotouric (our favorite Los Angeles sightseeing company) that features “a deep dive into the artistry, history, oddities and infrastructure of the streetlights of Los Angeles”. Of course Vermonica will make an appearance — as will Sheila Klein herself.

The live webinar takes place on September 9, 2021 from 8:00 – 10:00. Tickets are $10.


Vermonica


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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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