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LA's loneliest public art piece gets a second chance

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Tom Carroll, is one of three people who is trying to restore the Triforium. You've probably seen it, it looks like three giant bedazzled wishbones propped up in front of City Hall.

Carroll gave a history lesson while standing in front of the structure on Temple and Main. 

"So the Triforium was conceived and built by an artist named Joseph Young. It debuted in 1975. He thought, well why don't I create the synthesis between art and technology and I'll call it the Triforium. You'll be able to hear color and see music."

But these days, there's no music. Back in 1975, artist Joseph Young's vision for the Triforium was far ahead of its time.

His plans included a plaza that would respond to people's footsteps. The steps would then trigger a set of computers in a control room below ground—seamlessly prompting music and lights.

The thing is, '70s technology hadn't quite caught up with Young's ambitions, and it was plagued with complications and malfunctions from the start. Then City Councilman Zev Yaraslovsky had this to say about the structure when it was unveiled:

"The Triforium will be a different kind of a landmark. It'll be the landmark which people will come through and say, 'What the hell is this?'"

The project never quite lived up to his dream, so when it was premiered, it got a tepid reception. A clip from a local news station had this to say about the art piece:

"Is it a monument worthy of the City of Angels or is it just a giant jukebox? The vast majority of people in this city will probably never find out because they don't go downtown after dark anyway."

And while more people do venture into downtown after dark nowadays, the Triforium isn't getting much of that foot traffic. Caroll reiterated the structure's bad luck over the years:

"It never really got its day in the sun and it always kind of had a few technical errors here and there and just kind of has bumbled along for the last 40 years."

But things may be turning around. Last fall, Carroll and his colleagues had a breakthrough. They applied for an LA 2050 grant, which awards $1 million dollars "for creative and innovative ideas to make Los Angeles the best place to learn, create, play, connect, and live." 

And the good news kept coming. It was selected for restoration by the National Trust for Historic preservation. The trust partnered with Heineken and Indiegogo to raise funds to restore the Triforium as a part of The Cities Project. The project is part of a wider initiative put on by Heineken USA to " bring local projects to life that will make great cities even greater."

This meant the Triforium could crowdsource some of the money needed to finally realize Young's vision. So far, it's raised about half of its fundraising goal. In exchange, donors can win perks like tickets to see Bruno Mars. Carroll and company hope to finish some of the restoration work by the end of the year.

"So, seven months from now we hope at the very least to have replaced all the light bulbs with LED's and to have some iteration of the computer system working. At least as far as the app. So, hopefully, bring more people to see the Triforium, make it more interactive. Essentially creating, much like Chris Burden's Urban Light at LACMA is such a pull."

Aspiring to become like LACMA's Urban Lights, the installation of old-fashioned street lights on Wilshire ... that's a tall order.

And yet, this is just the first phase of the big makeover. So I had to ask, why? Why be part of a three-person rag-tag team that dedicates so much time and effort to restore this piece of public art– which never really lived up to its potential?

"Well, the analogy that I use a lot is if you half bake a pizza and you eat the pizza, you'll say 'This pizza sucks.' And like, well sure, you only half baked it. The Triforium as it stands is a half-baked pizza. So we're just trying to fully bake it."

If all goes well, by the end of the year, you might be able to hear Christmas songs coming from the long-silent Triforium.

To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above.


Take Two got a special look at the Triforium Control room. It's located almost directly underneath the structure in the subterranean mall below.
The cramped room is two floors and presently, doesn't have much to offer. In 1975, the control room housed a three-tiered keyboard on the first floor. Climbing the narrow stairs to the tiny second floor, you'd find the clunky computers.
These machines had the task of synchronizing the music played from the keyboard, with the rainbow of lights outside of the triforium. However, they rarely worked. And as time passed by, the computers quickly became obsolete.
The computers are the heart of the problem with the Triforium. They were never able to keep up with Young's vision and what's most ironic, by the end of the year the goal is to replace these bulky machines with with a Mac mini.