Downtown's Weirdest Sculpture Is Getting Another Shot at Glory

Downtown's Triforium stands in Fletcher Bowron Square.EXPAND
Downtown's Triforium stands in Fletcher Bowron Square.
Photo by Michael/Flickr

An impromptu party at noon on Sunday will celebrate news that the Triforium, a futuristic, flashing, music-generating 1970s sculpture once called “the psychedelic nickelodeon,” can be “rediscovered and re-integrated” by the city that once mocked it.

“Being misunderstood is nothing new,” says Claire Evans, member of the band YACHT who, alongside other supporters including Tom Carroll of Tom Explores Los Angeles, the app 5 Every Day, Downtown Art Walk and Art Share L.A., can now get on with their “multiyear rehab.”

Thanks to the My LA 2050 Grants Challenge, an initiative that aims to make L.A. the best place to learn, create, play, connect and live, the Triforium Project and 11 other winners will share a million-dollar grant.

Sculptor Joseph Young’s “polyphonoptic” oddity at Temple and Main was designed as a utopian, highly technological instrument/artwork, and was far ahead of its time back in 1975. Six stories high and shaped like standing wishbones, it was lined with 1,500 colored glass bulbs that flashed musically in sync with a quartz bell carillon, thanks to a basic computer in the underground control room nearby.

Or at least that was the original plan, one that also included lasers beaming into the sky and bouncing off buildings.

The inevitable budget and tech constraints, earthquake retrofitting and art critic snobbery made it more of a white elephant than a music marvel, and within a few years the “trifoolishness” was being ignored by many.

Music formats came and went, and the last renovation work was a decade ago, when the remaining bulbs were cleaned and the carillon bells replaced with a digital version. By then the music came from CDs, but the Triforium Project wanted to put it into the hands of every Angeleno.

Aside from replacing the incandescent bulbs with LEDs, the group overseeing the refurbishment plans to install an updated computer system and make it open-source, so you can create apps and compose your own sounds “whether you’re a virtuoso or a layperson,” Evans says.

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“To get a show of support like this, rather than by using Kickstarter or asking the city for money, was amazing,” says Carroll, who is genuinely enthusiastic about the upcoming task of working with city bureaucrats.

Evans then admits that “we honestly didn’t think we had a shot,” though bandmate Jona Bechtolt sums it up for all when he says they hope that, like Urban Lights at LACMA, the Triforium will become an L.A. must-see for locals and tourists alike.


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