Portion of Missing Sculpture Returned to Central Library

City Library John Szabo stands in front of the returned panel from the Well of Scribes. It hadbeen missing for 50 years.

Los Angeles is changing, and has been changing for the past two decades. Massive glass and steel high-rises are continuously altering Downtown’s skyline, while on the ground level, old single- and two-story buildings are being converted into fresh and new retail hubs for a new crop of Downtown residents.

Downtown has already reached the point where it’s looking back at the start of its renaissance. Staples Center, one of the first major projects to kick off Downtown’s renaissance, is marking its 20-year anniversary this year with a slate of programs, including a survey to pick the top 20 Staples Center moments, and an anniversary concert headlined by country singer Kane Brown.  And looking toward the future, the city is also working on a plan for how to develop Downtown by 2040, when nearly 125,000 residents are estimated to call the Central City home.

With so much of Downtown in a state of flux, it makes recent events tied to its past all the more important and noteworthy.

Key among them was last week’s recovery of a lost portion of the Central Library’s history. Recently Los Angeles Downtown News wrote about the return of a panel from The Well of the Scribes, a small, but significant piece of art that has been missing from the Central Library for 50 years.

The piece, formerly on the library’s west lawn since it opened in 1926, disappeared in 1969 when the garden was paved over to add parking. The west panel of the work, depicting the history of writing, was discovered in Bisbee, Arizona, with the owner contacting the Los Angeles Public Library and returning the work once it was verified.

It’s a tiny piece of art, and only one of the three panels that comprise The Well of the Scribes (the remaining two are still missing), but the panel’s return harken back to Downtown’s past, before the flight of the 1960s and 1970s saw the neighborhood’s historic Victorian houses and other cultural aspects give way to parking lots and modern high rises.

It’s not the only recent look back at Downtown Los Angeles’ history that deserves praise. Also at the Central Library is a new exhibition that looks at the history of signatures in Los Angeles. Built off of the library’s nearly 100-year-old signature collection, the exhibit explores who is remembered as Los Angeles, especially Downtown, continues to shift and evolve. The exhibit is paired with the release of book that analyzes the themes behind different L.A. signatures, from a graffiti, to carving a name into a tree trunk.

Progress and change is not a negative, however in the process, we need to take note of, and celebrate, what came before and what might have been lost. Reclaiming items like The Well of Scribes, and merging them with a new Downtown make for a stronger, more complete neighborhood.

Even as cranes continue to rise over Downtown, helping to forge the future of Los Angeles, it’s worth celebrating and showcasing its past.

©Los Angeles Downtown News 2019