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Corita Kent's Former Art Space Will Be A Historic Monument

Corita Kent, wearing a full nun's habit, stands in from of 12 panels for her pop-art pieces.
Corita Kent
(Photo courtesy of the Hammer Museum)
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In recognition of the work pop artist and nun Corita Kent created at 5518 Franklin Avenue in East Hollywood, the Los Angeles City Council this week designated the building a historic cultural monument, saving it from destruction.

The building’s nomination, placed by Nellie Scott of the Corita Art Center and supported by the L.A. Conservancy, first went to the City Council’s Cultural Heritage Commission back on Dec. 17.

The non-descript buildings chances initially seemed poor based on city staff’s initial report, which determined that the “commercial vernacular storefront” did not maintain enough original integrity to justify monument status.

Community support at that meeting turned things around. The 30-minute public comment period showed nearly unanimous testimony on the side of the nomination. This flipped the script for Commission President Richard Barron, who said, “[a]lthough when it first came before us, I was not supportive of it becoming a monument, I’ve changed my mind.”

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The nomination also received a letter of support from Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas. By the end of 2020, momentum had shifted toward favoring the building’s survival. But there was one more step before the final City Council vote. The nomination went to the Planning Land Use and Management (PLUM) Committee on May 18, where community support — from residents of Council District 13, where the building is located — was strong.

Scott, who made the original nomination, said Wednesday, the day of the City Council vote, she started the day hopeful after months of limbo. And she thinks support is going to continue, now that the designation has been made.

“There's so much love here, and I think that that is what I woke up this morning knowing... is that leading with love and leading with community first in mind on any endeavor, I don't think that's going to go away,” she told LAist after the meeting.

Some History On Corita Kent

Corita Kent entered the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in East Hollywood in 1936, when she was 18 years old. There, she was an educator with the Immaculate Heart College, creating her own vivid silkscreen prints at night and in the summers. She became known at the time for her colorful work that represented her faith in a revolutionary way. She was named a 1966 L.A. Times Woman of the Year, and in 1967 was on the cover of Newsweek.

The decision to save the studio came nearly nine months the first notice that the building where this notable work was created was slated to become parking spaces.

Black and white photograph shows Corita Kent in profile holding a large seriagraph
Corita Kent holds a serigraph screen at 5518 Franklin Avenue studio.
(Courtesy Corita Art Center / Immaculate Heart Community )

Preservation, especially through legal designation, can be a long-haul process that relies on community support. Those in support of preservation can be painted as anti-development. But Scott asserts that the Corita Art Center is pro-development in East Hollywood and across L.A.

What's Next For The Center?

The question is, what kind? The Corita Art Center envisions this building, even if it operates with a commercial purpose, as one where community members and visitors can honor Corita’s ethos through public art and programming. The center’s staff believes the building can pull more business to the Franklin corridor than additional parking spaces at the new Lazy Acres supermarket, slated to replace the current Rite Aid at 1841 Western Ave.

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Seriagraph has a bright red background with a single eye in black outline in the center. A block E is in the background and words in cursive read: Should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. camus
"E eye love," serigraph, 1968. Corita Kent created her seriagraphs at the Franklin building during this time period.

The disparity in gender of historic designations across the city — prior to this vote just 3% of buildings with the designation recognized the work of women — was one of the arguments folks presented at the various meetings.

Scott sees equity as a benefit to development. ”We do hope to continue to be a champion for other women artists and their sites and women's workplaces, but even further, just creative workplaces, because the creative process and artistic placemaking has a really big role to play in (the) creative economy,” she said.

The developer who purchased the property is still in charge, but the former studio is here to stay. Whatever the future purpose of the building, which is still operating as Sun Cleaners, the Corita Art Center administrators imagine that the building will feature bright, joyous creations like it did back in the 1960s.

For those who are interested in the future of the building, Scott suggests they sign up for the Corita Art Center’s newsletter here.

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