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Los Angeles Public Library Offers 10K Reward for Sculpture Missing Since 1969

The bronze fountain once stood in the gardens of the Central Library. A section of the sculpture was recently returned, and now the library is searching for the rest of it.

The Well of the Scribes, when it was still intact, at the Los Angeles Public Library (images courtesy the Los Angeles Public Library)

Check your garages, storage units, and even your front yard —  a hefty reward may be coming your way.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Public Library and Alta magazine announced that a reward of up to $10,000 was being offered to find the missing pieces of the Well of the Scribes. The bronze fountain once stood in the gardens of downtown Los Angeles’s Central Library, greeting visitors who entered through the library’s West Lawn. Aside from one section that only recently resurfaced, the whereabouts of the rest of the sculpture remain unknown.

Alta “Wanted” Poster

Opening in 1926, the Los Angeles Central Library was designed by architect Bertram Goodhue as an ode to human civilization and all of its accumulated knowledge. “Even the garden was part of his plan,” wrote Susan Orlean in her 2018 book The Library Book. She continued:

He called for it to be planted with olive trees, cypress, viburnum, and magnolia, all plants that might have been found in a classic Roman garden, which he felt would continue the experience of intellectual immersion. Among the trees were a variety of sculptures, including a fountain decorated with images of the great writers of the world, which was called the Well of the Scribes.

In 1969, the library paved over the West Lawn in order to add parking to satisfy the demands of their librarians. Its sculptures were removed, with many still missing to this day. The disappearance of the Well of the Scribes is a timeless LA story — it was removed to make way for a parking lot.

Flower Street entrance to the Central Library

Inspired by Orlean’s book, Alta published a story in July of 2019 about the Well of the Scribes and theories of its fate, but the sculpture was still nowhere to be found.

It was soon thereafter that an antiques dealer in Arizona had read the Alta story and realized that he had a portion of the Well of the Scribes sitting right in his apartment. About a decade prior, he had purchased it for $500 from a woman originally from California. Los Angeles City Librarian John Szabo travelled to Arizona to confirm the authenticity of the piece and has since returned it to Los Angeles, where it was unveiled in a homecoming press conference last October.

The Well of the Scribes, designed by Lee Lawrie, depicts the transfer of knowledge from the East to the West mediated by Pegasus, and the sections depicting the Eastern civilizations and Pegasus remain missing (as well as a spout installed above the basin). Some theorize they remain unaccounted for either in storage or as decorations in somebody’s garden; others fear that they have been smelted for the valuable bronze metal.

The section of the Well of the Scribes that was found and returned in 2019

Alta has hired a private investigator to track down the pieces, but is now, in collaboration with the Los Angeles Public Library, offering the $10,000 reward for information leading to recovering any of the missing pieces.

Who knows? Maybe that bronze horse your mom brought home from a flea market might be worth something after all.

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