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Wishes Swirl Up Into The City: The Future of The Griffith Park Teahouse

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Teahouse Deinstallation By Jeff Adam Ingalls

The Griffith Park Teahouse quietly made its way into the world at dawn on Tuesday, June 30, when an anonymous artist collective led one group to the structure, secured upon an abandoned granite foundation only hours before. One representative from the group remembers being serenaded by opera singers hiding in the hills' folds, as she followed a trail marked by redwood-bark arrows to find herself participating in a tea ceremony. Three at a time, they stepped into the house. The tea steeped, the sun rose, and the group, nibbling on almond cookies, watched as Los Angeles slowly came to life.

This week, the teahouse quietly slipped away from the world at dawn, when the collective met with representatives of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (LADRP) to see the structure off.

The teahouse, self-described as "a love letter to Los Angeles and a quiet perch for urban reflection," quickly became a beloved landmark of the summer. Scores of hikers who encountered the house would find blank, wooden "wish-plaques" and a bundle of pencils. "Write a wish for the city," a sign affixed to the building read. "Maybe a love letter."

Some would ring a bell that dangled from the wall to seal their wishes. "Which wishes will swirl up into the city?" asked another sign.

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The structure, constructed over the period of six months with the deft hands of woodworkers and carpenters, was built from felled redwoods killed in the 2007 Griffith Park fire. Artists harvested timber slated to be mulched at the park's composting facility.

Though fans of the teahouse mourn its loss -- a petition to protect the structure standing gathered more than 4,000 signatures -- this was no surprise fate. Within days after the ceremony, the artist collective was in contact with LADRP, and together, they made an agreement to retain the teahouse on site through July 26, with the provision that the artists maintain it on a daily basis; representatives from the group would visit the house each day, occasionally sanding away bits of pencil graffiti. The teahouse would then be bequeathed as a gift to the city.

A week before, the city informed the collective of their decision to move the structure. "It was put up in the middle of the night without permission," said L.A. city representative Joanna Berni. "We just didn't have the legal authority to keep it up."

The teahouse now temporarily rests in one of the city's storage yards, but it is by no means dead and gone. The collective says that they are currently in conversation with members of the LADRP, who are determining the structure's future. Ideas include finding it a permanent home or touring it to other parks and public spaces in Los Angeles as a pop-up installation. However, the city says that they don't know at this point.

Artbound recently reached out to the collective, who discussed what Angelenos brought to the site, a few memorable moments, and the future for the teahouse.

The teahouse and tea master at dawn.

How did the collective form?

The collective behind the teahouse is composed of a ragtag group of L.A. enthusiasts -- artists, historians, designers, performers, woodworkers, amateur athletes. The group formed when friends decided to experiment with a move from scheming and speculating into making things.

How would you describe the character of this collective?

Shady.

Is the collective thinking of any future projects?

Yes, many! Stay tuned.

(What we're most interested in: creating beautiful, funny, fantastical, surprising work that inspires, stops people in the midst of their routines, connects strangers, and subverts the status quo.)

Did the spirit of the ceremony remain? How do you think that the teahouse evolved during the weeks it was up?

The teahouse started as a quiet structure that didn't expect much from the city (how many visitors could we expect given a 40-minute hike from the nearest parking spot?). It evolved into a place where thousands of Angelenos wrote their wishes. We love that. At times, visitors brought a silent reverence to the teahouse. At other times, it was crowded and filled with raucous chatter amongst strangers who otherwise would never have met. Sightings included horses, headstands, ice cream-making, hammocks, morning prayers, picnics, midnight cyclists, tea-drinking, offerings, remembrances.

Was there anything that surprised you about the reception of the teahouse?

It was wonderful, surprising, delightful. We're in love with Los Angeles again.

What is your wish?

Our secret wish about the teahouse is that it spring[s] up in surprise locations around town and, after a few years touring, that it retires back up in Griffith Park.

Our other wish is for all of your wishes. (We're talking to you, Los Angeles.)

Photo: Jeff Adam Ingalls.

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