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How LA's original lamppost art installation suddenly disappeared

The Vermonica light installation sat in a mini-mall parking lot in East Hollywood.
The Vermonica light installation sat in a mini-mall parking lot in East Hollywood.
Via Waltarrrrr on Flickr

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You probably know Chris Burden's "Urban Lights" installation — an iconic part of the L.A. landscape since 2008. It's the one that sits right outside LACMA, composed of 202 restored street lamps.

But did you know that it is not the first art installation of its kind? Before "Urban Lights," there was "Vermonica."

As Kim Cooper, co-founder of bus tour company Esotouric explained, "Vermonica" was meant to bring some history and beauty to an otherwise drab setting: a strip mall parking lot.

"The artist called it an 'urban candelabra.' I mean, it's one thing to see one or two of these historic streetlights in the course of your daily commute; it's another thing to see a collection from all over Los Angeles brought together for aesthetic and illumination purposes."

The Vermonica light installation sometime in 2008.
The Vermonica light installation sometime in 2008.
Via Waltarrrrr on Flickr

Hiding in plain sight, the 25-lamp installation sat in a strip mall parking lot at the intersection between Vermont and Santa Monica. (Thus, its name: Vermonica). It featured lamps dating back to 1925, representing seven decades of the city's Bureau of Street Lighting. Esotouric's Richard Schave told Take Two, it had been a long time in the making:

"Sheila Klein, the artist, had the kernel of this idea in her mind for many years before 1993 and its installation at the parking lot at Santa Monica and Vermont. But in the immediate aftermath of the riots, she was in the parking lot looking at the burned out shells of the shops there and she said to herself, 'This is the location.'"

Galvanized by the 1992 riots, Klein wanted to put something together to help the community heal. First, she secured some funding from the department of cultural affairs. Next, she convinced the property owner of the mini-shopping center to let her use the concrete median in the parking lot for the installation, a sort of platform for the lights.

The property owner also agreed to foot the electricity bill. Finally, Klein recruited volunteers to help with the installation when she attended a Bureau of Street Lighting meeting one morning to plead her case. To her surprise, many of the bureau's staffers volunteered their time.

Originally, it was meant to be up for almost a year, but it remained there for almost a quarter of a century. Until last week.

"It's gone. The entire row of 25 historical street lights have been standing there since May 5th, 1993. A year and a day after the conclusion of the Rodney King riots, they are simply removed. There's a row of concrete and a little bit of grass where they were."

There were 25 street lamps, some dating back to 1925, in the Vermonica installation.
There were 25 street lamps, some dating back to 1925, in the Vermonica installation.
Via Waltarrrrr on Flickr

With no notice to the artist or the public, the installation was removed, leaving local residents and fans of the lights surprised.

The lights have been moved to a new location in front of the Bureau of Street Lighting office on Santa Monica Blvd., just two blocks from its original location. The configuration is slightly different, but the 25 light posts are still all in one place.

In a statement to Esotouric, artist Sheila Klein said this of the installation's move: "This is not my piece and it is no longer Vermonica."

The Bureau told the LA Times the move was not intended to be permanent. The strip mall property manager needed the lamps removed for a parking lot redesign or some type of construction. In the meantime, the Bureau said, the Department of Cultural Affairs is said to be contacting Klein about the future of the installation.

So, there's still hope for the lights' return. But until then, Cooper is encouraging Angelenos to keep their eyes open for other hidden gems:

"I hope it gets people to open their eyes and go out and look for wonderful things in their communities. There are a lot of Vermonicas out there and we need to identify them and take care of them."

To hear more about the Vermonica light installation, click the blue play button above.