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Arts and Entertainment

The Story Behind These Neon Rings Downtown

Generators of the Cylinder by Michael Hayden (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
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If you've strolled through the Jewelry District lately, you might have noticed a series of glowing rainbow-colored circles you hadn't seen before. This would be 'Generators of the Cylinder,' a public art installation that's been turned on for the first time since 2008. The 270-foot sculpture has been installed at the International Jewelry Center at 550 South Hill Street since 1981, L.A. Times reports. The work comes from Canadian artist Michael Hayden, who is known for his work with neon. He also designed the 'Sky's the Limit' piece at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

'Generators' consists of 27 clear, half-cylinders lined up in a row against a mirror. Each half-cylinder contains neon tubes. Hayden wrote a computer program that changes the pattern of the lights, according to Public Art in LA, and infrared sensors can tell if a pedestrian is walking through. The mirror creates the effect of a full cylinder, resulting in a tunnel of glowing colors. It's said to be one of the first art pieces to incorporate holography, and it looks much different when it's off.


The morning before the piece was turned back on (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
The piece was initially commissioned by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and real estate firm Cabot Cabot & Forbes. In 2008, the building owners decided it was too costly to keep the piece on, as it has to be cleaned and maintained. As part of a series of recent upgrades to the building, the sculpture was relit on January 22.

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Over the weekend, we also happened to catch the new neon on the Clifton's Cafeteria facade glowing brightly, hopefully hailing a reopening of the four-story historic restaurant in the near future.

This also reminds us of the World's Tallest Thermometer in Baker. The huge thermostat was conceived by late Baker businessman Willis Herron and turned on in 1992, but shut down in 2012 when the current owner decided the electric bills were too high. Last fall, Herron's family turned the thermometer back on after buying and repairing the landmark.