The downtown complex that has housed the Los Angeles Times for decades is filled with notable spaces: the pristine test kitchen, the bustling newsroom and the historic Globe Lobby with its 10-foot-high murals, busts of past publishers and hulking linotype machine.
Then there’s the community room, a drab, workaday gathering spot for employees and visitors that inspires few selfies. But for years, something remarkable resided in this otherwise unremarkable space, largely unseen.
It was art, five pieces framed as one, often hidden behind a lowered projection screen.
The artist was Pablo Picasso.
Five Pablo Picasso lithographs from his "Imaginary Portraits" series once hung in a corporate dining room at the downtown complex that houses the Los Angeles Times.
The five lithographs were abstract depictions of famous literary figures, including Shakespeare, done in vibrant brushstrokes.
They were among the last vestiges of a 110-piece art collection assembled in the late 1960s and early ’70s by the newspaper’s parent company, Times Mirror Co.
Dr. Franklin Murphy, the former UCLA chancellor who became Times Mirror’s chief executive in 1968, built the collection with Otis Chandler, who served as Times publisher from 1960 to 1980 and whose family owned the newspaper and its parent.
Works by 20th century artists Picasso, Rufino Tamayo, Helen Frankenthaler, Milton Avery, Richard Diebenkorn, Isamu Noguchi, Ellsworth Kelly, Saul Steinberg, Claes Oldenburg and many others were put on display in 1973 with the opening of the Times Mirror Building, which adjoined the existing newspaper headquarters.
The artwork was a physical manifestation of the company’s immense power and momentum in those halcyon days, said author Margaret Leslie Davis.
“It was this ethos that Los Angeles had arrived. [They] are not buying Old Masters — this isn’t for the socialites, this isn’t for the ladies page. This is modern and bold, reflective of the new Los Angeles,” said Davis, whose book about Murphy, “The Culture Broker,” details the creation of the art collection. “This was really radical. It showed tremendous taste — an informed sensibility of what was worth buying and presenting in terms of the Times Mirror image to the world.”
Corporate dining rooms were named after artists — Picasso, Tamayo and Steinberg — whose works hung in them. The five Picasso lithographs were from a 29-piece set of his artwork that had been on display.
“The Picasso Room was exclusive — you had to be an officer in the corporation, a high-up editor to go there,” said Roger Smith, who joined the newspaper in 1977, later became national editor and left in 2013. “I don’t think I got Picasso privileges until the 1990s. It was, ‘Oh wow, I've kind of arrived.’”.....MUCH MORE