'It did what it was supposed to,...

'It did what it was supposed to, but never very well.'

When they dedicated the Triforium at the City Hall Mall on Dec. 11, 1975, the man who designed the musical light tower called it "the Rosetta Stone of art and technology" and predicted bravely that "it probably will earn a detailed listing in the Guinness Book of World Records."

Joseph Young was wrong.

When other members of the Los Angeles City Council sneeringly described the $925,000 Triforium as a "million-dollar jukebox" and called it "the biggest ding-dong the city ever had," Councilman Louis R. Nowell responded, "Some of you are laughing, but I predict that this will be one of the outstanding features of Los Angeles."

Louie Nowell was wrong, too.

Twelve years later, Young's modernistic sculpture of steel, glass, concrete and plastic stands dark and silent while the council faces debate on whether to pump more money into efforts to revive it.

Even before the Triforium was erected as the centerpiece of the $28-million mall, critics questioned whether it was necessary--whether the taxpayers really needed, or wanted, a six-story sound system that glowed in the dark.

This is the way it was supposed to work: Recorded music from its self-contained glass bell carillon would be broadcast from giant speakers. The sound would be fed simultaneously into a computer that would tell 1,494 colored glass prisms when to light up and in what intensity.

Mariachis to Mozart

For a while, the Triforium worked that way, churning out nightly a mix of music from mariachis to Mozart, all to the accompaniment of a rippling light show that looked sort of like, well, an old-fashioned jukebox.

Some people liked it. A lot of people didn't.

"A few, a handful, came and listened," said Bill Vestal, who has been the Triforium's keeper for the last 10 years. "It did what it was supposed to, but never very well. The problem was that the whole technological base was weak. We had more and more problems with it."

By 1980, Vestal said, performances were limited to weekends, and in the years that followed, cutbacks in available tax revenues limited the shows to special events and Saturday nights on summer weekends.

"We last used it last summer," he said. "It wasn't working very well. The lights weren't responding. . . .

"The computer is antiquated. Too old to be repaired. It needs to be replaced. It really needs upgrading of the carillon, too, and upgrading the sound system. If we want to run it anymore, we have to be willing to put time and money into it now."

In coming weeks, the City Council is expected to consider whether to cough up some money for the jukebox--Vestal estimates that several thousand dollars are needed--or pull the plug for good.

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