A bold new look for summer
May 20, 2010
The Santa Monica beach skies were grey but L.A.’s iconic lifeguard towers were anything but.
And the cadre of casual beachgoers who happened upon the just-unveiled towers—newly painted in wild, psychedelic hues—got an eyeful Wednesday morning.
If their early reviews are any indication, the towers’ summer makeover has the makings of an international crowd-pleaser.
“It’s beautiful!” said Yves Bollotte, a visitor from Paris, directing his Gallic enthusiasm at one of the three towers on view near the Santa Monica Pier.
“It’s groovy,” said Joyce Attal, CEO of a New York City marketing firm, who’d just finished jogging. “It’s bringing the hippie days back to the beach.”
“I think the towers are spiffy, if that’s still a word,” said Mary Loucks, a teacher from Kern County who was keeping a close eye on her soaked but happy field trip class of second-graders.
“I like the color and pizzazz,” added homeless advocate Ron Hooks, of not-so-far-off Marina del Rey, as he stood astride a blue bike on the boardwalk chatting with a homeless man with a football who called himself R.U. Faster.
By summer’s end, hundreds of thousands of beachgoers are expected to see the towers, part of a giant “Summer of Color” public-art project that by early June will bestow a temporary new look on all 156 L.A. County lifeguard towers, from Palos Verdes to Malibu.
When the project is complete, towers along a 31-mile stretch will sprout colorful flowers, figures and abstracts. Even the ramps and pilings are getting the Day-Glo treatment for the project, which will be on display until October.
The $1.5 million privately-funded effort is the brainchild of Bernie and Ed Massey, founders of the L.A.-based non-profit arts and education group called Portraits of Hope. Their organization brings together thousands of hospital patients, school children and disabled people to collaborate on brightly painted public art. Earlier targets for the colorful treatment: a Beverly Hills oil well, New York taxicabs and even a blimp.
At Wednesday’s unveiling, in which grey plastic sheeting was stripped off the three towers for a slo-mo “reveal,” lifeguard officials said they were initially skeptical of the color explosion about to overpower their towers’ traditional Holland blue.
“We are a conservative bunch, and we weren’t totally sold on this project at first,” Mike Frazer, chief of the county’s lifeguards, admitted to the crowd.
Frank Bird, a director with the lifeguards’ union, said skeptics became converts by helping out with the painting sessions at the project’s Marina del Rey headquarters with students from the Braille Institute and from a Compton middle school at which many students had never seen the ocean before the trip. “Our guys are really on board now,” Bird said.
At the ceremony on the sands, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky thanked his wife, Barbara, for persuading him to get the project rolling with the county because of her admiration for the Masseys’ work. Her lobbying paid off; Yaroslavsky’s office helped smooth the way with county agencies with jurisdiction at the beach, including the Beaches and Harbors Department and the Lifeguard Service.
The giant projects are a form of art therapy. Kids learn that their efforts can make a difference when they see their finished artwork displayed in very public places. About 8,000 volunteer artists, mostly children, took part in painting over 2,000 pre-cut plastic-coated panels in recent months that are now being bolted to the sides and roof of the lifeguard towers. (See our earlier story here.)
“These projects are all about kid power,” Bernie Massey said at the ceremony.
The art therapy concept appealed to French tourist Bollotte.
“It is therapy for us, too,” he noted.
Lindsay Hannah, a visiting artist from British Columbia who was swinging on the tall swing set at the beach playground near the tower, felt the same way. “I absolutely agree that art is therapeutic,” says Hannah. “It’s fantastic.”