By Lea Lion
Over the years, the Olive Motel in Silver Lake has gained notoriety for many things, including being the site of the 2007 murder of 15-year-old runaway. But the motel also found fame in artistic circles when local artist William Leavitt immortalized it on canvas in 1995. Now you can see Leavitt’s painting “Olive Motel” as part of “William Leavitt: Theater Objects” at MOCA Grand Avenue through July 3.
When Leavitt moved to Silver Lake from the mid-Wilshire district more than 15 years ago, he was struck by the neighborhood’s architecture and it was not long before the Streamline Moderne-style motel on Sunset Boulevard near Occidental Avenue caught his eye.
“I would go by that spot on Sunset, where the Olive Motel was, and then one day I took a picture of it because I record – well, I guess they are not really monuments – but buildings that are interesting to me and I liked the name, and its semi-Moderne architecture,” Leavitt said. “It had something of an older L.A., when maybe Sunset Boulevard was in between two places.”
Built in 1946, the Olive Motel’s signature rounded walls and green neon sign have left their mark on the collective imagination of the neighborhood. While many passersby have doubtlessly wanted to spiff it up with a fresh coat of paint, Leavitt prefers to put his paint on canvas.
“I like it the way it is. I like that there is a small driveway going back in to where the units are,” he said. “And to be honest, I’ve never gone back there or really looked in there. It’s slightly sleazy or something. It could be just perfectly fine. I don’t know. But I think that it is a little preserve of some other world going on there.”
The Olive Motel is not the only familiar sight in the show. “Hillside Lights (Incandescent)” depicts a panorama of Midcentury Modern-style houses nestled into a hillside and “Silverlake Garage and Carport” shows, well, just that. There are also plenty of lawn chairs, banana palms and sliding glass doors.
Leavitt’s penchant for Southern California architecture begs the question: What building will he immortalize next? While he doesn’t have a specific landmark in mind, he does have his eye on a few post-war apartment buildings with cut field stone decoration.
“There’s a kind of cheese factor here in terms of architecture that appeals to me,” he said.