Monday, August 14, 2017

Photo Essay: The Temple of Academia at UCLA's Original Quad

Of all the places that I've explored and want to explore in the LA area, there are still some that I just haven't given much thought.

Sure, I might know about them. I might even have them saved to my map. But since there's just so much to do and see every day and every place, I need something to really spark my interest.

Yes, I hunt down many of my experiences. But more often than not, I am an opportunist. And when opportunity knocks—as it inevitably does—I'm usually on the other side of the door, ready to answer it.

Such was the case with Royce Hall, the performance venue on the UCLA campus. In fact, I'd completely forgotten that I'd actually seen a show there for work back in 2008.

Since then, I'd been to UCLA a couple of other times—for a meeting somewhere, for a planetarium show I missed because I arrived too late, for the botanic garden—but I hadn't really explored the heart of its campus yet.



I'd never realized how it had been built on such a hill in Westwood, flanked by ravines on either side of it.



If you enter from the north at Sunset Boulevard, park your car down below, and walk up the Janss Steps (named after Edwin and Harold, the brothers who developed Westwood Village and sold their land in the former Rancho San Jose de Buenos Ayres for the creation of UCLA)...



...you come up to the semicircle-shaped Shapiro Fountain, which anchors the academic quadrangle of the original (now "old") campus on a former sheep pasture.



There were four buildings at the start of UCLA (hence, the "quad")—and the largest and most grandiose of them was and still is Royce Hall.



Named after the late 19th century California idealist Josiah Royce and designed to mimic the 11th-century Romanesque style of the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio in Milan, Royce Hall is undoubtedly the "crown jewel" of the UCLA campus—and not just because of its iconic, asymmetrical towers.



After you enter through the cloistered colonnade...



...and gaze up at the clerestory windows...



...it still feels like you're in some Italian Renaissance church.



Designed in 1927 by brothers James Edward Allison and David Clark Allison as the main administration and classroom building of the UCLA campus, Royce Hall is a kind of temple of education...



...its stained glass windows celebrating academic pursuits instead of miraculous works...



...and scientists and athletes instead of saints and angels.



Although Allison + Allison architectural team was probably known best for its work on public schools, the brothers also designed the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.



And what we now know as a grand concert hall was actually designed as an auditorium for academia...



...where students filled its 1800 seats to listen to speeches given by Albert Einstein or any of the many other intellectual, cultural, and political luminaries (Ansel Adams, Aldous Huxley, Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Nixon) who graced its stage.



Although an E.M. Skinner pipe organ was installed in 1930 (its pipes placed above the proscenium arch) and legendary musicians like Gershwin, Ellington, and Dorsey all performed at Royce Hall in the mid-1930s, it wasn't until 1984 that it was converted into a performing arts venue and its acoustics were retrofitted to be more suitable for music.



That meant covering up the leaded, bottle-bottom windows with modular, soft-walled acoustic panels and draperies. (Fortunately, you can see those colorful windows elsewhere in the building, as pictured below.)



After sustaining significant damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the hall went through another huge renovation—allowing the university to make some other modernizations and improvements, like installing camouflaged lighting into the original coffered ceiling (instead of hanging unsightly lighting rigs).



Backstage, you'll find various boards and other controls at the stage manager's station...



...as well as a number of rigs...



...a fly system...



...and dressing rooms that have been hidden from audience view.



As you descend into the bowels of the hall underneath the stage, you can examine the two significant eras of Royce Hall at once: pre- and post-earthquake damage. Cinder blocks were used in the rebuilding and reconfiguration that happened over the course of four years after 1994 and can be seen right alongside the original brick (both painted white).



A concrete ramp was also demolished as part of the reconfiguration (which also included the construction of a new rehearsal hall with the same dimensions as the performance stage).



While most people won't ever get the chance to see the inside of the modern rehearsal space in the basement...



...some may have actually stood on top of it without realizing...



...as its roof is the Ahmanson Terrace, just outside of the West Lobby.



Architecturally, you can't really put Royce Hall into any one bucket. Between its carved stone lintels, rounded arches, and supporting columns, it's at once Mediterranean and Classical—although references to both, as the Los Angeles Times aptly put, are "vague."



But among its ancillary influences (which also include Byzantine and Celtic), the focus seems to be on content over form.



Because the building is–as is everything else in life—open to interpretation. What you see is nothing more than what you see.

It's not necessarily what it actually is.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, UCLA
Photo Essay: Rose Bowl Stadium, Renovated Again, and Open for Tours!