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The Romance of Water and Power: Architecture as Advertisement
Lecture & Presentation, Santa Monica
Sunday, February 11, 2018

Join SAH/SCC and the Santa Monica Public Library (Moore Ruble Yudell, 2006) as we explore how Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power (DWP) leveraged architecture to enhance its image with Angelenos and increase the sale of electricity and water during the 20th century. Author and researcher Stuart W. Leslie, Ph.D., will take us on a dynamic virtual tour of DWP architecture—from local temples of power in each community to the dazzling commercial showrooms designed to sell merchants on illuminating their storefronts.

Leslie’s work uncovers fascinating DWP buildings by S. Charles Lee and Frederick Roehrig, as well as lesser-known in-house architects, including V. Lankovsky and J. De F. Griffin. Attendees will learn the long-forgotten history of these buildings—ranging from neo-Grecian temples to luminescent Art Deco showrooms—and their role in the community.

The lecture is based on a recently published article in the esteemedSouthern California Quarterly, edited by SAH/SCC Board Member Merry Ovnick. Leslie, an historian whose work revolves around technology and its intersection with popular culture, also traces the infrastructure designed by city father William Mulholland (1855-1935), including the dam that bears his name and the St. Francis Dam, which collapsed in 1928.

Lastly, the program will showcase the mid-century modern DWP General Office Building (Albert C. Martin and Associates, 1965), a veritable billboard for the three commodities in question: water, power, and light. Martin placed the building atop a 1.2-million gallon reflecting pool with eight large illuminated fountains. The building “perfectly expressed the romance of water and power,” explains Leslie, and quickly became the new face of “Electroluminescent Los Angeles.”

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