.Temescal Residents Protest Neighborhood Obelisk Installation

Neighborhood associations and public arts projects can both be particularly charged with emotion, so when the two become involved with one another, it creates controversy.

The Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District (TTBID), a collection of businesses and residents from 40th to 66th Streets primarily on Telegraph and Shattuck Avenues, has been planning to install an obelisk in the area on June 25.

The obelisk, which is bright blue, 20-feet tall, and sports the neighborhood and city’s name in a Bauhaus-style typeface with floral undertones, is to be placed at 52nd and Shattuck – one of the sleepier blocks in the neighborhood with a Pennzoil shop and drive-through espresso café next to the 24 freeway on-ramp.

TTBID selected local artist Ellen Kim to design the piece. The art project is designed to welcome visitors, residents, and even freeway drivers to the neighborhood. A welcome sign was a condition in approving the Pennzoil shop’s construction over a decade ago, but the project never rose above a concrete pedestal, according to TTBID board member Bill Lambert. The obelisk will cost $12,000, and the TTBID and property owner are sharing the costs of construction.[jump]

But not everyone is happy to be welcomed into their own neighborhood with an obelisk. Temescal artist Suzanne L’Heureux objected to it in a blog post, which sparked a Change.org campaign that has accrued 147 signatures as of Tuesday morning. The campaign proposes planting a “magnificent tree” in place of the obelisk. In addition to its design, L’Heureux also objects to what she views as a closed decision making process inside the TTBID for a public art project that will represent the entire community.

“This piece suggests Las Vegas Strip or a Putt Putt Golf course – not a world class neighborhood with some of the best of the Bay Area’s fine dining, local, artisan shops, galleries and tasteful gems like Sagrada,” said L’Heureux. “This hugely impactful sign offends my sensibility as an artist, art historian, business owner and resident of the neighborhood.” The neighborhood slogan – also established by the TTBID – is “Hip and Happening.” This sign is definitely not hip, but unfortunately, it looks like it’s happening,” L’Heureux added.

Resident Karen Hester has also taken up the fight against the obelisk. “I think part of the issue is that this idea for a ‘welcome sign’ on the Pennzoil property predates the lovely mural and most signers of our petition question why we would want to add to the visual clutter at this intersection with frankly more visual clutter?” said Hester in an email on Tuesday to the TTBID board.

As a response to the criticisms, TTBID Executive Director Darlene Drapkin replied publicly to the Change.org petition, saying that Kim’s proposal was the only one that came close to the district and property owner’s budget. Drapkin also said that anyone interested in the project could have attended public meetings or could have read the meeting minutes. The most recent meeting minutes are only available from April, though the January minutes show the project on the agenda.

“It is all too easy to complain about something you haven’t been involved in, but when you intentionally decide not to participate in the process when the door is wide open and we are even asking you to come in – I think most people would agree that is a bit too much,” Drapkin said.

Time is running out for the community critics to make an impact on this decision, though with a heightened public awareness of the floral obelisk, Temescal may either witness a compromise or hurt feelings.


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