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CityDig: Why Has the Lady Turned Her Back on Echo Park Lake?

A familiar face will greet visitors from a new location when Echo Park reopens to the public next month. The Lady of the Lake, long a serene presence on Echo Park Lake’s southeastern edge, has returned to her original perch on the north shore.

As part of the New Deal-era Public Works of Art Project, local artist Ada May Sharpless sculpted the statue in 1934. It was meant to represent L.A.’s patron saint, the Queen of the Angeles—a point driven home by the bas-relief depictions of City Hall and a Spanish mission on the statue’s pedestal. But when the sculpture first appeared lakeside in 1935, parkgoers saw something else in the cast-stone statue: the Lady of the Lake, a magical woman from Arthurian legend.

Standing at the tip of a peninsula on the lake’s north shore, the Lady of the Lake remained an Echo Park fixture until vandalism forced it into storage in 1980. When it returned in 1999, the city placed the statue on the southeastern shore, facing toward the lake. Recently, as part of a two-year, $85-million overhaul to improve the lake’s water quality, the Lady wandered back to her original location on Echo Park’s north side.

“It was moved to its historic location in order to preserve and enhance the historic nature of the park,” said Katie Doherty, a member of the project’s design team. “We also relocated the pump house from that location to the southeast corner of the park in order to restore what is probably the best vista point at the park.”

But the statue’s new orientation has raised eyebrows. As Jesus Sanchez reported on his Eastsider blog, some neighborhood residents objected that the Lady seemed to be turning her back on the lake. Project designers, however, insist that the orientation was no sign of disrespect. Instead, it satisfies one of the renovation’s overarching goals: historical accuracy.

“Because Echo Park Lake is a City of Los Angeles Cultural Historic Monument, special care was taken to mimic historic conditions,” Doherty explained.

Consulting historical photographs like the one above from Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection, the team determined that the Lady had always faced north. Thus she stands that way today—her back turned to the lake, and her gaze fixed upon visitors approaching the north shore.

 

Weigh in: Which way should the Lady of the Lake statue face?

Away from the lake, as she did in 1935
OR
toward the lake, as a sign of respect

Leave your opinion in the comments section below.


Nathan Masters of the USC Libraries blogs here on behalf of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, cultural institutions, official archives, and private collectors hosted by the USC Libraries and dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden histories of Los Angeles.