By CJ Dablo
A new public art piece honoring Long Beach’s blue collar workers now stands on the busy corner of Artesia and Paramount Boulevards. Civic, business and community leaders gathered for a public dedication ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 28 to commemorate the latest community project to beautify and revitalize an area that’s dominated by industry.
“In public artwork, I always like to feel as though the community is part of the project itself,” said artist Terry Braunstein.
Her 800-lb. sculpture, titled “Paramount,” features vibrant colors encased in a Byzantine glass mosaic. The brilliant shades of red, orange and blue glass are pieced together in a stainless steel frame.
The project came at a price tag of $430,000, according to an estimate by the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency. The agency said they spent $300,000 and shared the cost of the improvements with Paramount Petroleum, who paid about $130,000.
The 14-ft. art piece stands in front of new landscaping. A 10-ft. high wall behind the sculpture stretches to a 400-ft. expanse around the street corner. It replaces an old chain-link fence and thick, overgrown trees. The wall partially shields a street view of the refinery run by Paramount Petroleum.
Braunstein’s design features three industrial workers climbing on what looks like riveted steel beams that support a gigantic globe. Braunstein said the piece included elements from a mural by Mexican artist Diego Rivera and “pays tribute to the city workers and the importance of its manufacturing jobs.”
The art project gave petroleum industry employees a chance to get involved with the final design. Paramount Petroleum workers offered their input into how the piece would actually look, and even provided one briefly uncomfortable moment for the artist who designed the piece.
Braunstein remembered when Bill Winters, the senior vice president for Paramount Petroleum, asked his employees what they thought of the plans.
Winters told her that his employees had a problem with her original design. The workers depicted in the sculpture were standing on something high, and they weren’t using any harnesses or helmets.
“You know, you’re absolutely right!” replied Braunstein.
To help Braunstein, Winters requested that his employees take pictures of actual workers using the gear, and the artist made the necessary changes.
The project went smoothly, Braunstein said, praising the team of experts who helped create the piece, and acknowledging the support from the people responsible for the district improvements.
“Public art is a collaborative process and truly requires great cooperation and coordination,” Braunstein said.
Many of the people who attended the ceremony seemed to appreciate the collaboration. According to business and community leaders, that street corner was due for a change.
“It’s a key intersection,” said Laurie Angel, who serves as the chair of the North Project Area Committee (North PAC), an advisory board to the city’s Redevelopment Agency. “When people come into North Long Beach, this is the first thing they see. You don’t want them to see a big industrial property.”
This project is one of many changes the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency is planning to roll out in the coming years to address the changing needs of the area’s constituents.
Many of the improvements affect the city council’s ninth district, which falls under the leadership of Councilmember Steven Neal.
“This is one area that is perceived to be lacking in amenities and services, and we’re all working together to change that perception,” said Neal.
A fire station is slated to be completed around summer. According to the councilmember’s office, the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency is also in the later planning stages of building the North Village Center, a mixed-use retail and residential development project that will boast a modern library.
Neal said that the city also hopes to attract businesses into the redeveloped area. A spokesman from the councilmember’s office confirmed that that the city is negotiating the development of a “restaurant row,” near Atlantic Ave. and Artesia Blvd. The ninth council district currently doesn’t have any “sit-down” restaurant chains, according to the councilmember’s office.
Councilmember Neal said the ninth district also lacked one more thing.
“I think we’re the only place in America that doesn’t have a Starbucks,” he said.
But despite the fact that the district is missing a gourmet coffee shop and other amenities, Neal said he is looking forward to making the ninth district a place his constituents can be proud of.
A beautification art project like “Paramount”sets the stage for future revitalization plans for the area. The artist behind it understands her role in the efforts to improve the area. She’s already done several art pieces around the city, and Braunstein acknowledged that public art deeply influences the community.
“The people who live here have to pass by it every day,” Braunstein said. “And there’s a tremendous responsibility I feel as an artist to create something that’s going to be durable, that’s going to last a long time…and that people will appreciate for many years to come.”