Group Says No Thanks to Gift : Sculpture: Not everyone was enamored with the Descanso Gardens artwork. The county will demolish it.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One man's idea of abstract art will soon be, unmistakably, a pile of rubble at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge.

The donor: Randolph Donabedian, a Sherman Oaks developer who said he became "overwhelmed with community spirit" and decided last spring to build a modern garden sculpture.

The sculpture: a giant hollow cube with holes in it that Donabedian named "Apertures." It's made of 30 tons of concrete and worth $30,000, according to its donor.

"I like it. I'm very proud of it," Donabedian said. "The public likes it. Kids play on it."

The problem: The Descanso Gardens Guild doesn't like it. It's not sylvan, guild members say.

A part of the sculpture was dismantled last week, and the rest soon will be smashed to smithereens.

The decision was made by the eight-member executive committee of the guild, a fund-raising volunteer group that provides crucial support to the financially strapped gardens.

Descanso superintendent Steven Cohan said Donabedian was invited this year to build a temporary exhibit for the annual Spring Flower Festival at the gardens. Donabedian offered to build an exhibit that could stay after the show, and Cohan said he agreed to let it remain long enough to determine public response.

Although no formal poll was taken, Cohan said public reaction "is mixed. Some like it and some don't."

The reaction of the guild's executive committee, though, is clear. Cohan and guild President Gail Boatwright wrote Donabedian on Aug. 29 that the sculpture would be removed because the exhibit "does not conform to the essential identity of the gardens, which has been so carefully fostered over the years."

Boatwright did not return repeated calls from The Times. Cohan, however, said installation of a permanent structure at Descanso would have required county approval. "We consider it an exhibit and not a structure," he said.

Officials of the Los Angeles County Department of Arboreta and Botanic Gardens said the only way to remove the sculpture, which has one-foot-thick walls of solid concrete and measures 10 feet square, is to bulldoze it.

Leon Arnold, assistant director of the county department, said he doesn't know how soon the piece will be demolished or what it will cost the county to haul away the rubble.

Arnold described the sculpture as "a dark gray concrete box with holes through the middle. The theory was that if you stand and look through it, you would see different pictures, like through a camera.

"I looked at it and didn't see much of anything," added Arnold, who said he is "a Remington and Charlie Russell man, myself."

Realistic Western sculptures by those artists obviously are far apart from the style of Donabedian's cube.

"I put something of interest in a dead spot of the garden," Donabedian said. "It was not meant to be literal."

Donabedian and a group of volunteers donated all of the materials and built the structure in 10 days. It was designed by Korean architect Chris Pak to frame views of the expansive lawns and native oak trees at the county-owned park.

Glass panels, since removed, were installed to reflect changing light patterns on the garden setting. Vines and other climbers were planted to eventually cover the concrete walls and provide color changes with the seasons.

The developer estimated that about $10,000 worth of materials went into the sculpture and that it would have cost $30,000 if it had been commissioned.

Steve Smith, a landscape architect with Lawrence R. Moss & Associates of Montrose, which has designed portions of the master plan for the gardens, said he has not seen the "Apertures" sculpture but welcomes an occasional expression of modern art.

"There is a sort of mind set that everything there has to be sylvan and pastoral," Smith said. "But even the very classical gardens in Europe occasionally have a contemporary piece in the middle of them. It provides a contrast, an elegant point of view."

Donabedian called the guild's decision "tantamount to book burning" and insists that he has a right to public expression. "They act like this is their garden, not a public garden. I don't get it. I don't see how they have the right to do that."

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