Written by Laura Meyers Photo's by Dawn Kirkpatrick
The Negro in California History -Settlement and Development by artist Hale Woodruff The Golden State Mutual building at the corner of Western and Adams is home to two murals that are important cultural heritage landmarks. The Negro in California History - Exploration and Colonization by artist Charles Alston and The Negro in California History -Settlement and Development by artist Hale Woodruff. The murals and the building are designated as the City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument No. 1000 in 2010 and the murals are owned by Community Impact Development II, LLC
The Negro in California History - Exploration and Colonization by artist Charles Alston
The interior lobby of the building was designed to incorporate two integrated murals, one for each sidewall. Building architect Paul Williams sat on the three-person committee that selected the murals’ artists and subject. These 2 large Social Realist style murals, are together a panoramic depiction of African-American history in California from 1527 through 1949.
Charles Alston (1907-1977), a noted African American artist who worked in the mediums of painting and sculpting and served as an art educator, was known for “fusing modern art styles with non-Western influences to create a new and distinctive African-American idiom.” Alston was influenced by the largescale works of the Mexican muralists, including Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. One of Alston’s early works of this form was a large pair of murals for New York’s Harlem Hospital entitled Magic and Medicine and Modern Medicine, which were funded by the Works Progress Administration and celebrated African American heritage in the field of medicine.
Hale Woodruff (1900-1980) had a distinguished career as an artist and art educator. His first mural was created in 1934 in collaboration with artist Wilmer Jennings as a Public Works Project and celebrated African American contributions to wide ranging aspects of America’s cultural traditions. The four-panel mural was titled The Negro in Modern American Life, Literature, Music, Agriculture, Rural Life, and Art. Like Alston, Woodruff had an interest in the mural painting traditions of Mexico. He studied directly with Mexican muralist Diego Rivera in 1936 and “noted the parallels between Mexican art and that of African Americans.”
Miriam Matthews, a librarian and historian, was hired in 1947 to research the history to be depicted on the headquarters building murals. She is best known as California’s first African American credentialed librarian. Matthews was a pioneer who became an expert on preserving and describing black history. She had a multi-faceted career as a librarian, a historian of African American and California history, a community activist, an active member of the California Library Association’s Committee on Intellectual Freedom, and as an archivist who collected documents, books, photographs and art -- most relating to the African American experience.
Matthews assembled an extensive collection of historical materials about African Americans, beginning with those who were California’s explorers and pioneers. She documented the presence of 26 persons of African ancestry among the 44 persons who founded the Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1791. In 1977, Governor Jerry Brown appointed her to the California Heritage Preservation Commission and the California State Historical records Advisory Board. She died in 2003 and is interred at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in West Adams.
Established in August of 2008 by writer, artist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.