Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Arch of Ely, in Palo Alto

photo is by found in the Nov 10th issue of Autoweek

Steve came through with a whole LOT of info about this.. he just astounds me I tell ya!

This is the entrance to the Ely Building located at 390 Lytton Avenue in Palo Alto, California (corner of Lytton and Waverley Streets - Google street view below).  The original occupant of the building was a law firm, but the present occupants, Lowenstein Sandler LLP, Atorneys at Law, moved in long after it was built.

The arch-sculpture by Emeryville artist Scott Donahue celebrates the history of the automobile - appropriate since a gas station once stood here and at the time construction began it was being used as a parking lot.  Titled "The Arch of Ely" after property owner and longtime Palo Alto businessman Leonard Ely, who was a pilot in WWII.  He started an auto dealership in Palo Alto in 1954, selling Chryslers, Plymouths and Chevrolets. The businesses expanded and thrived for three decades. (

In 1997 developer Jim Baer wanted a variance to build a project that was 80% oversize for the current zoning.  To get it he had to agree to a number of add-ons for the public benefit, including 10-foot wide pedestrian walkway dedication, $75,000 for traffic study for Downtown North, a new bus stop bench on Lytton Avenue, repair existing tree wells and new street trees both on and off-site.  

To get a variance for 50 parking spaces in the underground garage (down from the required 74) Baer had to pay an in-lieu fee of $428,325 or $17,846.875 per missing space.  He had to give Palo Alto another $106,995 to gain an easement through City Parking Lot F behind the new building to give easy access to the underground garage.  More importantly for art/car lovers, a form of "Public art, as approved by the Public Art Commission and the Architectural Review Board, will be integrated into the project" at a cost of around $125,000.

The City of Palo Alto's Public Art Commission oversees an "Art in Public Places" project with a collection of more than 100 permanent works and over 200 portable works of art in a wide range of 2-D and 3-D media, which are placed throughout the city.  "The Arch of Ely," dedicated in 1999, became one of these projects.

According to his website, starting in 1983 artist Scott Donahue has "designed, fabricated and installed 22 permanent public art pieces in California and Colorado and completed 39 temporary public art works in New York, New Jersey, California, and Italy.  He uses a variety of techniques and works with a wide range of materials including concrete, bronze, fiberglass and ceramic.  Each of his pieces is unique and specific to the site where they are located." 

Hence the homage to the gas station/parking lot with a history of the automobile. 

A time-lapse video exists of the construction of the Ely Building (, and elements of the arch begin appearing at the 3:26 minute mark.

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