Alta, L.A. library announce $10,000 reward for information leading to long-lost sculpture

The L.A. Public Library and Alta magazine and its publisher are seeking the public's help to find the missing Well of Scribes pieces.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Efforts to track down the missing sections of the long-lost sculpture Well of Scribes are ramping up.

The Los Angeles Public Library and Alta magazine and its publisher announced on Tuesday a $10,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of the sculpture’s lost pieces. The bronze sculpture — which honored history’s great writers — mysteriously vanished more than 50 years ago when the downtown L.A. library underwent a makeover.

“We’re excited to broaden the search and to ask the public’s help in this endeavor,” said Alta magazine editor Blaise Zerega in a phone interview. He encouraged anyone with a hunch about the missing pieces’ whereabouts to reach out.


“The well, when it was created and part of the library, it symbolized knowledge, language and the importance of books,” he said, “and returning that to the library is an important statement of our civic history and a reminder of the importance of words and meaning in these anxious times.”

A section of the Well of the Scribes sculpture returns to the L.A. Central Library, 50 years after it vanished. The other two pieces are still missing.

Oct. 4, 2019

Until last year, the fate of Lee Lawrie’s Well of Scribes was unknown. Then Zerega read Susan Orlean‘s 2018 “The Library Book,” which covers the moment, in 1969, when the library’s garden and west lawn were paved to make room for a parking lot. The architect Robert Alexander chained himself to a rock near the sculpture, but his protest was unsuccessful: The fountains, plantings and sculptures were removed, and somewhere along the way, the scribes vanished.

The mystery piqued Zerega’s interest, so he asked reporter Brandon Reynolds to find some answers.

An antiques dealer in Arizona read Reynolds’ article and realized he had one of the sculpture’s missing pieces. After contacting the L.A. Public Library, City Librarian John F. Szabo traveled to the Grand Canyon State to bring back the section.

Then in October, during a private event in the library’s Rare Books Room, Szabo unveiled a piece of the long-lost art work, which was in great condition.


With part of the mystery solved, Alta’s staff became determined to find the other missing pieces.

They hired a private investigator who specializes in recovering missing art. So far, he’s tracked down multiple leads, Zerega said vaguely. “We speculate there’s a good chance it’s still in the greater L.A. area.”

Alta is also distributing posters in branch libraries all over L.A. and San Francisco.

As with the Lindbergh beacon’s 2001 restoration, Zerega believes piecing together the Well of Scribes will be a precious moment for the city.