On the unlikely stage of four artificial islands barely a quarter-mile off the Long Beach shore sit four oil-drilling platforms camouflaged by waterfalls, brightly colored cement towers and a landscape of shrubs and palm trees, all dramatically lighted at night.
During the 1960s, a consortium of five oil companies commissioned the L.A. landscape planning firm of Linesch & Reynolds to brainstorm the theatrics into being. The firm collaborated with sculptor Herbert J. Goldman and landscaper Morgan Evans to mask the 180-foot-high oil derricks and other equipment within a skyline that would, in Goldman’s words, “relate the islands visually to urban Long Beach.”
Four decades after their creation, the new show “Fantasy Islands: Landscaping Long Beach’s Oil Platforms” at Cal State Long Beach’s University Art Museum examines the islands through original drawings and period photographs, along with contemporary photos by L.A.-based Soo Kim, assembled by guest curator Kurt Helfrich of UC Santa Barbara’s Architecture and Design Collection.
“As we were cataloging the Joseph H. Linesch archives, we saw that we had drawings and materials that really gave a full sense of the project,” Helfrich says. “One reason we did the show was to shed new light on these islands that have been there for quite a while but about which people still don’t know a lot.”
Though the islands are closed to the public, on Sept. 16 Cal State Long Beach will offer guided tours of White Island, one of the four, with boats shuttling visitors. Reservations are required.
Though this is not quite the lost continent of Atlantis or the Wizard’s emerald city of Oz, it is a rare opportunity to touch a bit of Southern California’s playful, and enduring, past with one’s own feet.
“Fantasy Islands,” University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach. Free. Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays. Closed this Saturday and Sunday. Ends Oct. 15. (562) 985-5761, www.csulb.edu/org/uam. Island tours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16. $55, reservations required.