Photographs by Larry Harnisch / LADailyMirror.com
Mural in the Los Angeles Times Globe Lobby, dated July 19, 1934, by Hugo Ballin
Hugo Ballin is one of the greatest muralists in Los Angeles history, creating monumental murals in the 1920s and 1930s celebrating the city, California, and the arts that still bring awe today. His talents extended to other creative areas as well, such as filmmaking and novel writing.
A detail of Ballin’s mural at The Times.
Ballin was born in New York City in 1879 and studied art there before traveling to Europe for further refinement. From early on, he won awards and was honored for his work. In 1913, Ballin designed and painted 26 murals in the Wisconsin State House located in Madison, Wisconsin.
His talents soon attracted the motion picture industry, and producer Samuel Goldwyn hired him as art director for Goldwyn Pictures on the East Coast in 1917. In 1921, Ballin trekked to Los Angeles to work at Goldwyn’s Culver City Studio. Ballin designed sets for moving pictures at Goldwyn, but soon he began producing, writing, and directing films starring his wife Mabel Ballin. Their 1923 film “Vanity Fair” was the first silent film to eliminate title cards. Ballin would direct 12 films in his career.
As sound pictures were introduced in the late 1920s, Ballin turned his attention away from moviemaking to novel writing. He published at least 5 novels in the late 1920s, early 1930s, many of which can be found at the Central Library, UCLA, or the Huntington Library.
While Ballin was busy making films and writing novels, he was also designing murals. He was hired by Wilshire Boulevard Temple in 1928 to design murals highlighting Jewish history, an oddity, since most synagogues contain bare or almost bare walls. Mr. and Mrs. Harry, Jack, and Abe Warner sponsored the murals in honor of their deceased brothers Milton and Samuel.
The Los Angeles Times hired Ballin to paint murals in the lobby of its new building. In the 1930s, Ballin won a competition to design and paint murals inside the rotunda of Griffith Observatory that highlight science and learning.
The Times covered the Ballin mural with metal sheeting in the 1980s to make the Globe Lobby appear more “modern.”
He would also design murals for the Title Guaranty Building, Southern California Edison, El Rodeo Elementary School, Burbank City Hall, and USC Medical Center, among others. In 1932, he fashioned the commemorative medallion for the Los Angeles Olympics. After his death in 1956, his family donated his papers to UCLA.