The Los Angeles area enjoys a variety of unusual yet interesting creative exhibits. There is, for example, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the Bunny Museum, and Valley Relics Museum. These are not museums considered in the class of the Getty, LACMA, or Norton Simon. They lack the marketing budgets and promotional street banners highlighting their exhibits. However, they are still local treasures and well worth the experience.
The Velaslavasay Panorama is housed in the historic Union Theatre (first opened in 1910 and one of the earliest movie theaters in Los Angeles), in the Historic West Adams neighborhood, just north of the University of Southern California. The main exhibit is the panorama itself, a 360-degree, 90-foot long, painted mural. From an elevated platform, visitors are immersed into a sweeping view of the city of Shengjing, in northeast China, as it may have appeared about 90 to 100 years ago. To be honest, we never heard of Shengjing (or modern Shengyang). From the museum’s brochure, we learned it to be the largest city in northwest China.
The panorama was fascinating. We easily succumbed to the illusion of standing atop an ancient wall, overlooking a large, exotic city, far away in time and place. The painting offered considerable detail and reflected the work of careful and meticulous artists. It was also not silent. Added to the experience was the ambient sound of a living city. We found ourselves making online queries about the city’s history and landmarks. Shengjing had long been an important political and economic center for Manchurian China.
We ended up studying the panorama for almost an hour. Even then, we felt that there was still a lot of detail that we had yet to see.
Before the arrival of motion pictures in the early 1900s, panoramas were said to be a popular form of entertainment, mostly portraying famous battle scenes. The Shengjing Panorama helped us understand their attraction, finding ourselves, although well-accustomed to motion pictures, drawn into this sweeping, immersive image. This panorama was more recently creatied, painted by Chinese artists Li Wu, Yan Yang, and Zhou Fuxian over five years. It was first displayed in this country at the Velaslavasay Panorama in 2019.
The Shengjing Panorama is not the first panorama exhibited at the Velaslavasay Panorama. Earlier panoramas were the “Panorama of the Valley of the Smokes” (portraying Los Angeles, 200 years ago) and “Effulgence of the North” (portraying the North Pole), both painted by Los Angeles artist Sara Velas. Velas had first opened the museum on Hollywood Boulevard in 2001.
At the time of our visit, the Velaslavasay Panorama museum also featured the Nova Tuskhut exhibit, a recreation of an Arctic Trading Post, including a window to a mini-diorama of the Arctic tundra. Visitors may also visit the theatre itself and explore an outdoor garden in the back.
The Velaslavasay Panorama
1122 West 24th St,
Los Angeles, CA 90007