One Possible Avenue of Expression

Suzanne Muchnic is The Times' art writer

Day after day, thousands of frustrated motorists weave their way through the massive construction project that has turned the 2.7-mile strip of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood into an obstacle course. Residents of the area and merchants who run businesses on the street grit their teeth and try to think about how much more pleasant their lives will be after the summer of 2001, when the improvements are expected to be complete.

Landscape architects Douglas and Regula Campbell have a different point of view. They look at the mess and see an opportunity to create an oasis of calm, beauty and dignity. What they have in mind is an urban park that would blend artistic man-made forms with natural elements. It would include a monumental fountain with plumes of mist, waterfalls and surging overflows and a sunken courtyard enclosed by a wreath of laurel trees and low walls inscribed with an anthology of poetry.

This isn’t a pipe dream. Campbell & Campbell--who are partners in marriage as well as in their profession--have an impressive record of equally ambitious projects. Their resume includes designs for the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Culver City and Malibu; the campuses of Stanford University, Pomona College and Marlborough School; public plazas at the Los Angeles Central Library and the Pasadena Police Civic Center; and waterfront projects in Imperial Beach, Santa Monica and Long Beach. They are also the landscape architects for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, under construction in downtown Los Angeles.


In West Hollywood, the Campbells have won a competition to design a veterans memorial for the triangular plot of land at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Holloway Drive. Working with U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky, they have come up with a plan for a small park that would honor veterans and serve as a staging ground for public events, as well as provide a contemplative retreat on a busy thoroughfare.

Veterans memorials often spark controversy, and West Hollywood might seem to be a particularly troublesome spot because many members of its gay and lesbian community feel that they have been treated unfairly by the military establishment. But longtime City Councilman Sal Guarriello, a decorated World War II veteran, has championed the memorial and gained considerable support from his peers.

“I believe there is a difference between honoring the military and honoring veterans,” said Mayor Jeffrey Prang. “We aren’t looking to be cheerleaders for the Department of Defense. We want to find a way to honor all people who have put their lives on the line for our country. West Hollywood may be known as a young, trendy, hip, gay and lesbian community, but it has a lot of veterans.”


Rather than pay homage to those who served in any one war, Campbell & Campbell set out to create a meditative environment about “the warrior’s journey and sacrifice, the meaning of community and the price of freedom,” Regula Campbell said. Their design incorporates the required governmental flags and bronze shields commemorating the branches of the U.S. armed forces in a symbolic environment that leaves much to the imagination.

A tall, stone fountain--the project’s most imposing feature--is a twisting form that suggests a human figure, a crucible or an hourglass. A ring of trees recalls laurel wreaths worn by ancient Greek heroes. A pool in a sunken courtyard is encircled by stone walls inscribed with war-related verses selected by Pinsky.

“How sleep the brave who sink to rest/By all their country’s wishes blest!” comes from William Collins. “Yes; quaint and curious war is!/You shoot a fellow down/You’d treat if met where any bar is,/ Or help to half-a-crown” is the work of Thomas Hardy.


Pinsky’s own contribution: “I think it made our country older, forever./I don’t mean better or not better, but merely/As though a person should come to a certain place/And have his hair turn gray, that very night.”

Despite all these plans, the project is far from a reality. The city paid three design firms to develop ideas for the memorial and selected Campbell & Campbell in October. About $200,000 in city funds has been allocated for the project and an effort is underway to raise money from veterans groups and private supporters. But the City Council has yet to decide on the full scope of the project or its schedule.

The memorial has come this far with the city’s blessing and lots of community involvement, but a total budget was never established. When the price tag of $1.2 million was recently disclosed, “there was a bit of sticker shock,” Prang said. In the early talking stages of the project, he had envisioned a budget of no more than $250,000.

One test of support will occur May 15, when the City Council is scheduled to consider a request for the initial placement of trees in the memorial park. Guarriello insists that plans will proceed and says that state funds for parklands and green space may be available. Others are less certain and suggest that the project may be scaled back or built in stages, over time.

“The plans are very expensive,” said Councilman John Heilman. “We will be looking at that. There also will be some discussion about whether we want to do everything in the plan or just parts of it, whether we want to phase it in, and whether some alternative is preferable. So all of that will be on the table.”

Objections don’t focus on the project as a frivolous expense for public art, Heilman said. For many it’s a question of budget priorities. “People want to know whether this is the best use of the city’s funds at this time,” he said.

The memorial is part of the Santa Monica Boulevard master plan, adopted in the spring of 1999 to reclaim and redesign West Hollywood’s main street. It was owned and operated by Caltrans as State Route 2, but in the fall of 1998--after a decade of disagreements and discussions about maintenance, operation and safety--the city struck an agreement with the state allowing West Hollywood to take over the street and to receive about $8.6 million in state funds for roadway and sidewalk reconstruction.

The boulevard redesign has developed through a community process of meetings, surveys, workshops and hearings. The goal is “a beautiful, vibrant, urban boulevard that reflects the community’s vision and embodies West Hollywood’s identity,” according to a book outlining the master plan. Pedestrian amenities, spaces for community activities, improved landscaping and public art are among its components.

For the Campbells, who have designed the first public art project, working with the city of West Hollywood was a chance to tackle a new challenge--creating a memorial for veterans.

But they also chose to make it an opportunity to link poetry and landscape architecture. “In collaboration, their inherent likenesses and differences allow one to magnify, illuminate and shade [their] expressive qualities and content,” they have written in a statement about the project.

Still, having made a career of tiptoeing through sensitive situations and slogging through bureaucratic processes, they are realistic. “We never know if these things will get built,” Regula Campbell said.