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ELYSIAN PARK : Sculptor to Begin Glass-Simons Work

Echo Park artist Peter Shire hopes to begin constructing the Frank Glass and Grace E. Simons Memorial sculpture in Elysian Park--his first public artwork in his hometown--next month.

The industrial art sculpture, which pays tribute to two community activists who fought to save the Echo Park-Elysian Park neighborhood from overdevelopment, will be placed at Angel’s Point, a scenic hilltop next to the Los Angeles Police Academy. It is part of a city Recreation and Parks Department improvement project that will add paths, picnic facilities and a children’s play lot to the area.

City leaders have approved Shire’s plans, but the city parks department is awaiting a grading permit from the planning department to begin work.

Though Shire has traveled the globe creating brilliantly colored furniture, teapots and industrial sculptures for public and private patrons, the memorial in his hometown is particularly important to the artist because of its location and the couple it honors.

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Simons founded the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park in 1965 to block the city’s plan to build a convention center in the park. After winning that battle, the group continued to fight development of the 585-acre park, including proposed freeways, oil fields and water pump stations.

The community group remains active and vocal. One of its latest causes is fighting expansion of the Police Academy. When Glass died in 1987, two years after his wife, he left money to the city Recreation and Parks Department to improve Elysian Park and designated part of the fund for a memorial.

Shire, whose mother worked for the committee, was the committee’s choice to design the memorial. Shire plans his own version of a “mini-city” in the sculpture, using steel, copper and other industrial materials.

The work will be 28 feet tall, with the “city” raised 12 feet by gray columns. Shire uses geometric shapes and the natural colors of copper, metal gray, black and red to create his city.

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Small triangles atop cutout squares symbolize the bungalow-like homes of the area. A ball perched on a vertical, multi-sided piece represents oil wells and man, and a large black arc symbolizes transportation and environmentalism--"the connections, freeways, and the circular nature of the universe . . . and that one thing affects another,” Shire said.

With the Downtown skyline as a backdrop, Shire said he hopes the sculpture will evoke the stark contrast between the image of the city as a place of sun, fun and glamour and the reality presented by the skyline.

“Hopefully, there’s a moment where (viewers will see) a contrast,” he said. “I’ve got oil wells, small-scale bungalows of Chavez Ravine . . . against the major city skyline. It’s what we see every day, but we block out. It’s reminding us to look.”

Shire also plans to place seats that are shaped like easy chairs but made of concrete underneath the “gazebo” created by the posts.

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“Industrialism is an easy chair you can’t sit in comfortably,” he said. “We realize industrialism isn’t altogether such a comfortable chair.”


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