Image: Lobby of the New Rosslyn Hotel, showing murals by Einar Petersen.
Note: This is an encore post from 2011.
Fame is an odd thing. An artist might be successful and popular in his lifetime and forgotten with the decades, while other artists receive little or no recognition in their lifetimes, only to become household names later. For example, painter Vincent Van Gogh was virtually unknown during his life and sold only one painting during his career, but within decades of his death, was recognized as one of the world’s greatest painters.
Muralist Einar Petersen, on the other hand, was a well-respected and successful artist during his life. He created many elegant and beautiful murals in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1910s and 1920s, only to drop into obscurity within a few decades. Not only was he forgotten, but most of his work was also destroyed.
Photo: Einar Petersen murals at Clifton’s Brookdale.
Born in Denmark, Petersen studied art in Europe before arriving in America in 1912. Working his way westward across the United States, Petersen arrived in Los Angeles in 1915. He painted and created more than 20 murals in Omaha, Neb., Spokane, Wash., Manila, Honolulu, San Francisco and Los Angeles throughout his career.
His first commission was designing and painting six 19-feet by 9-feet murals depicting Los Angeles history from the Spanish days to the 1920s for the lobby of the new Rosslyn Hotel at Fifth and Main streets in 1915. The Oct. 31, 1915, Los Angeles Times highly praised his work, stating, “Each of the five panels holds a composition that is excellent in its lines and masses… the handsome big panels in the Rosslyn (each of the five is 19×9 feet in dimensions) are, of course, southwestern in theme, and even local in subject, for they depict the fine and simple elements of life in the Los Angeles of a far-off yesterday.”
Several other businesses hired Petersen to design murals. The Hunter-Dulin Building in San Francisco opened in 1926 with murals he designed of pioneers crossing the plains filling the lobby. The Mayflower Hotel (now the Hilton Checkers) at 535 S. Grand Ave. commissioned him to paint murals of pilgrims, while the Spring Street Guaranty Building and Loan Association at 435 Spring St. hired him in 1928 to draw murals of Aladdin and his magic lamp for the lobby and conference rooms, which they promoted in Los Angeles Times ads announcing the grand opening. Clifton’s Cafeterias paid him to paint a forest mural for Clifton’s Brookdale Cafeteria on Broadway (which still exists), and to design and build a garden of rest for their Pacific Seas Cafeteria. Petersen designed Spanish murals for Glendale’s Guaranty Building in 1930.
Thanks to his success, he and his wife hired architect Harry Muck to design a Spanish Renaissance home for them at 2706 Beachwood Drive in Hollywoodland in 1927. The house, later owned by actor Ned Beatty, still gracefully greets guests as they enter the gates of Hollywoodland. He also built 4350-4352 1/2 Beverly Blvd. as artists’ studios, and the city did vote them Cultural-Historical Landmark No. 552 in 1991.
Petersen passed away in 1986, and the years were not kind to his murals. By the 1970s, many had been obliterated or hidden behind fake walls, and in the 1990s, others were destroyed as well. New owners decided that these works were out of date or didn’t want to spend the money repairing them, so instead they replaced them with bare walls.
Honolulu at least remembered Petersen in 1985, when it celebrated his 100th birthday on Oct. 17 with Einar Petersen Day. In Los Angeles, however, Petersen and his work have been consigned to the dustbins of history.