Update: Please check recommended reading list based on what’s come up in the comments at: Of Interest.
As long as we’re going down the hallways of myopic design and architecture in our fair city, there is a bigger but forgotten side story that bears remembering. After all, a loss this big should never have happened.
Since almost 40 years have passed, the story bears repeating for those who were too young, and others who are new to the city.
When one sees the Hunt Library through the eyes of an architectural aficionado, one can’t help but be stunned. How did this building get here? Along with the now shuttered and desecrated Hunt Foods, it was part of an overall design by nationally renown architect William Pereira. Pereira, an architect and designer of office buildings (The TransAmerica Building), museums, university campuses (UCSD) and entire cities (the Irvine Masterplan) designed the now forlorn library. Why was this here? How? The old Hunt Foods was shuttered –a victim of an economic move out of state. I requested the records from the city clerk and read how this building came into being. In addition, I revisited my salad-days haunt in Pasadena, watched a movie, and read the only biography of Norton Simon. (Later, the book & movie were donated to the Hunt Library).
At one point, the Hunt Library was part of the campus of Hunt Foods, owned by an entrepreneur and industrialist Norton Simon. In 1927, he and his family purchased an old orange juice bottling company in Fullerton. Over the years, they added more produce and vegetables and most notably proceeded to turn tomato sauce and ketchup into gold.
He became rich –so rich that he bought other companies. He also collected art. Loads of it. Art was on the walls of his home, in the Hunt offices and in the Periera-designed library next door. He shared his art with school children. It has been hailed as the most significant private art collections in the world. In it are collections of the Impressionists, Old Masters, Flemish, Baroque, East Indian, and Asian artifacts —his curiosity about the world was answered by art.
By 1974, he wanted to find a home for his collection.
The rest of the story and the sad conclusion may be seen in the video below.
Simon died in 1993.
Just Wondering: What else would have developed along the industrial corridors where the museum would have gone? What impact would a deeper appreciation for culture and art have on the values of a community? How would having a world class collection of art supported smaller venues such as The Muckenthaler, The Fullerton Art Museum, and even those things budgeted under community services? What effect might this have had on future building projects? What can we learn from this, and is there a place in our city for an aesthetic shaped by a deep understanding of art and culture in a time when bigger, cheaper, homogeneous and beige is deemed more reasonable?
At a time when sweeping changes are being proposed, when city services are being cut, and when we can point to regrettable changes in our downtown landscape, it’s time to see the relationship between how we make choices to live as well as art and design.
“Art is the signature of civilizations.” –Opera Singer Beverly Sills