It's a little neighborhood movie theater in Union Square, which you'd almost miss if you weren't facing it as you drive up Union Street on the way to USC. Mint green and unassuming, the former Union Theatre — once known as Fairyland — had served as headquarters for the Tile Layers Union (Local 18) for 30 years, a movie theater, a church and, when I found the space in 2002 or so, a place for mariachi lessons. Now it's home to the Velaslavasay Panorama — a 360-degree work of art, carrying on a tradition that reaches back to the triptychs of medieval China.
“The panorama was originally located in a small stucco rotunda building at 5553 Hollywood Boulevard,” reports founder Sara Velas, just before leaving for Germany and a meeting of the International Panorama Council. “Built in 1968, in the courtyard of a long-since-destroyed 1913 brick tenement, this building — the Tswuun-Tswuun Rotunda — bore a curious resemblance to the great panorama rotundas of the 19th century. Flora in the garden included a variety of aged palms, snow-white rosebushes, banana trees and a collection of fine succulents, some of which have been transplanted to our current location at the Union. The Hollywood location had one panorama on exhibition, Panorama of the Valley of the Smokes, a 360-degree painting of what the Southland might have looked like some 200 years ago.”
The building and everything on the property were razed for a development that never came. Soldiering on, Velas set up shop in the Union Theatre in 2005, hosting concerts and other performances along the way.
“With our 360-degree exhibit 'Effulgence of the North,' the panorama remains on view, and there will also be a number of polar-related events [2007-2008 is an international polar year]. Another project in the works is the presentation of a moving panorama. Whereas the 'static' panorama was a still 360-degree painting-in-the-round, a moving panorama was a long painted scroll, which was unwound before an audience for them to see scene-by-scene — but never the whole scroll at once — with a narrator or announcer telling the story accompanying the image.”
The panorama, much like film itself, represents the culmination of a romantic and youthful desire to see everything at once, to drink in as much from what peripheral vision offers and to see as deeply as can be seen.