Northeast Los Angeles Placemaking Competition: Michael Todd Sculptural Gate


Project submitted by Damian Robledo

Project designed for Elysian Valley

Project Summary and Scale

Adding a cultural dimension to the NELA RC's Rio Vistas Project, this steel sculptural gate by Michael Todd will be installed at the end of Clearwater and Elysian Valley, with an integrated bike rack, bench and signage that highlights the history of art and fabrication in Elysian Valley.

Why are you committed to this project?

Since 1981, Michael is an artist-in-residence on Clearwater Street. His sculptures are inspired by the flow of the LA River and are meditations on humanity's place in Nature and the Cosmos. Recently, his family opened the sculpture garden to host the LA River Café, re-connecting the artist with our community.

What are the most relevant characteristics of project site and scale?

The end of Clearwater Street is currently a dumping ground for debris and construction waste that blocks the storm drain, creates hazardous puddles and is a cover for
illicit activities due to the dark decaying dead-end. Since the summer of 2013, Clearwater is the put-in location for kayaks as part of a pilot program. Kayak renters, bikers and pedestrians currently have to negotiate a narrow, trash strewn opening in
the fence to access the River.


Describe how this project will reinforce a sense of place or enhance the built environment.

The Michael Todd Rio Vista at Clearwater is an educational experience, permanently displaying the artisan tradition of Elysian Valley Craft. These installations - which could be duplicated at other Rio Vistas throughout Frogtown - are also landmarks with street names in relief on raised concrete foundations that serve as benches. One will refer to the "Todd Sculpture" as a landmark for meeting friends for a bike ride, in the way that the nearby Heron Gates are synonymous with Bernard Goldstone. The integrated signage will explain two murals on Clearwater: the French Brothel (on Michael Todd Studio) and German Townhouse depictions.

Provide a description of the project's necessary planning activities. (100 words) Site preparation is key. Removing volunteer and dead palm trees will be first, Then removing debris, dirt piles and blockage of the storm drains, dismantling the fractured fence and lightly re-grading the dirt areas. Excavation of asphalt and replacement with permeable pavers or D.G. will occur next. Careful attention to the overhead electrical easement will be observed. Then the excavation and formwork for the foundation/bench. Then pouring #3000 grade concrete and finally Michael Todd will create and direct the installation of the Steel "Gate". Hiring a local artisan for the welding provides a locally sourced job opportunity to the community.

What is a rough estimate of your project budget?

Michael Todd Studio will donate nearly all of the steel materials for the actual Sculpture and can provide his own welding equipment, which represent a significant savings (of nearly 20%). However to remove debris, clean drainage, install permeable paving and build the raised concrete bench/foundation will cost $8,200 for materials and $10,500 for labor or $18,700.

How does this project leverage existing resources and efforts?

Michael Todd's workshop is adjacent to the Rio Vista and will be the HQ for planning and installation. Michael is offering his collection of salvaged steel that came from a
decommissioned naval ship from San Diego. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of this first solo show. His importance as an artist will bring legitimacy to the project as well as encouraging other local artists, such as Shepard Fairy, Hausago, This project is inspired by the student designed Rio Vista at Coolidge Avenue and the recent LA River Café held on Clearwater that realized the Rio Vista renderings created by Dake-Luna. Clearwater and Gilroy were streets not included in the NELA RC Rio Vista study. Connecting the northern part of Frogtown with the southern part is significant. Due to the neighborhood's history of freeways displacing amenities, it is important to not let Highway 2 create a physical divide in the neighborhood.

What community need is your project serving?

Reducing pollution and making improvements to watershed management are integral to this project and dovetail into the placemaking efforts of the NELA RC. Elysian Valley is a community rich in resources and talent, but lacking in amenities and activities. This project is essential community preservation and has a direct link to the heritage of Frogtown. It is not an outside intervention, but a local piece of street art. Turning a dead end into
a living mini-park will improve the community's standing in Los Angeles as well as give the long time residents a renewed chance to commemorate their talents.

If your project is realized, what does success look like?

The chance to duplicate this Swiss Army knife of an art installation at each of the other Rio Vistas along the eastern border of Elysian Valley is exciting and creates an Art Park
that encourages exploration, preserves local history and links streets to the Los Angeles River. This project can exist with both the City Planning Rio plan as well as the US Army Corps of Engineers recent draft study. It is the essential placemaking experience - a public plaza where activity and lifestyles co-mingle. We see families, residents and visitors all benefiting from outdoor recreation and world class art.

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