Kay Martin Collection
Project Area: Bunker Hill
Project: Angelus Plaza
Project Location: 255 S. Hill Street
Project Type: CRA Initiated
In the late 1940s a young painter named Catherine (Kay) Martin of Springfield, Illinois relocated to Los Angeles to join her new husband, Lowell Martin, an insurance executive who lived in Glendale. While exploring her new surroundings she became fascinated with Bunker Hill- a neighborhood of Victorian residences nestled between the Civic Center and the Harbor Freeway.
At the turn of the century these once fabulous mansions signified Los Angeles’ transformation from a village into a sophisticated and affluent city. However, by the 1950s Bunker Hill’s wealthy residents had moved west, and the intricate carving, romantic gables, cupolas, and grand arches that graced these stately quarters fell into a dilapidated condition. Once elaborate residences were converted into shabby rooming houses catering to transient and low-income residents. Bunker Hill became a deteriorated into a neighborhood marked with liquor stores, bars and a high crime rate.
This period coincided with the initial stage of the Bunker Hill Project. This was a “plan to reclaim a blighted portion of the city’s core and restore and strengthen the central city through major new buildings, improved traffic ways, parking and physical beauty…to become one of the nation’s most modern business and residential centers.” (Los Angeles Times 1959). Ultimately this push for revitalization involved the City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA).
Martin, with an artist’s sensibility, recognized the former beauty hidden in this area, and thought that “the houses have developed personalities from a combination of wood lace, a pot of geraniums at an open window, people who come out of the houses, and the colors of the stained glass windows.” During the mid 1950’s Martin made it her work to document Bunker Hill’s fading glory. She soon became a constant fixture in her white station wagon that doubled as a portable artist’s studio and became known as the “Vagabond of Bunker Hill.” Most of Martin’s paintings and drawings from this period are titled simply by addresses. Each image is treated as a formal portrait and they stand as loving testimonials to a lost chapter of the City’s history.
In 1994 Kay Martin’s relatives gifted this collection to the CRA/LA. With respect to the Artist’s work, the CRA/LA thought it was time for this collection to return to its rightful location in Bunker Hill.
Angelus Plaza gratefully acknowledges the CRA/LA for their generous loan of the Kay Martin Collection in 2005. The CRA/LA is indebted to Mr. and Mrs. William Reed for their bequest of the Collection in1992.