Sunday, October 30, 2011


Those of you who grew up in the LA area should recognize the statues above as old residents of the La Brea tar pits – old in that the statues have resided at the La Brea tar pits for many years, and old as they represent REALLY old animals that roamed around the area eons ago. The lion statues were sculpted by Herman Beck in 1935 and have been at the tar pits since then.

However, they didn’t always sit in such a lovely setting.
I think I was probably 10 when I saw them for the first time. My folks took my sister Ginnie Lou and I up to Los Angeles for the day and the La Brea tar pits were on our agenda. This would have been about 1945.

There was no fancy museum there then. It was like a big park, with fences around the actual tar pits themselves and statues placed strategically around them, representing various types of prehistoric animals, not all of which were found in the tar pits. I took lots of pictures, but only one ended up in my scrapbook – one of my mother and sister at one of the statues

Then in 1948 when I was in 7th grade our Girl Scout leader took us on the first of many trips we made into Los Angeles from our home town of Long Beach. We girls were fascinated by the tar pits; it was a teeny bit scary to us, wondering if we were going to be consumed by tar like the prehistoric animals were, even though they were fenced off. The tar was still bubbling and warm, and it smelled just like the tar we had seen in Long Beach wherever a new roof was being put on a house. And again, I was the one who was running around taking pictures of all my friends as we clambered up and down on the statues.

This first picture below is my friend Dokey nestled in the arms of a huge bear. And the picture below that is taken with the whole troop, excluding me of course, and our scout leader, Frances Allen, on those very same Herman Beck lions that today still are an integral part of the tar pits…the same lions that are shown at the beginning of this blog.

I’d guess the last time our scout troop went to the tar pits was around 1950. Junior and Senior High School, college or work, marriages, babies and adult life probably kept most of us from even giving a passing thought to those tar pits. In my adult years I went to Los Angeles a lot, but never returned to them. Actually, I was even unaware that a museum had been built on the premises until about 1995 when I had occasion to be in the area and decided to take a quick peek at my old stomping ground.

Imagine my surprise to find the tar pits of my memory gone! In its place (after some 50 years) was a spiffy new museum, a tiny display of actual tar pits, and most of the statues that I remembered not even visible from where I stood. I did not make a tour of the area, so I am sure there was more than I saw at that quick peek, but as with many other remembered things, how things change!

The LA Times this morning had a nice article and photo about the La Brea tar pits. I found it interesting but there was no emotional attachment to it….until I saw the picture of the lions, which drove me back to my old scrapbook and from that came a desire to show you the “then” and “now.” And like all old people would say, “Well, it was better then!”

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