In the late 1700s and early 1800s a new form of interactive media was invented. Considered lowbrow at the time, it was the 3D movie of its day, a fully engaging visual experience for the masses known as panoramic paintings.
Generally displayed either in a large circular room, and surrounding the viewer, or occasionally stretched across two rollers like a ribbon and cranked across them to create a moving landscape for the audience, they were wildly popular in their day. Good panorama painters, such as John Banvard (who at one point painted a half-mile long panorama, the longest in the world at the time), were made rich and famous. But with the advent of photography, optical toys and later film, panorama paintings all but disappeared, with most of the world forgetting they and their creators ever even existed.
Taking a cue from these popular panoramic paintings, the Velaslavasay Panorama in Los Angeles is a curious throwback to this old medium. Here, visitors are engaged once again in a fully immersive, 360-degree representation of landscape painting, complete with lighting and sound.
Eventually, the rise of the motion picture industry aided in the demise of the panorama as an art form. The Velaslavasay Panorama thus occupies a somewhat ironic location in an old 1920s silent-film theater and only draws more attention to how technology has drastically changed our visual experiences.
The old Union Theater, which once served as a tile layers’ union headquarters in the 1970s, is still used by The Velaslavasay Panorama Enthusiasts Society today. In line with the “magnetic showmanship and spectacle” of this bygone era in media and Los Angeles culture, past events have featured Alpine yodelers, esoteric instruments and automata. The front desk even provides sensational pamphlets, such as one on The Alabaster Isle of Penglai, a garden behind the theater which is home to pet bunnies and carnivorous plants.
Know Before You Go
The stairway to the panorama is not immediately obvious, but is accessed via a dark hallway branching off of the hall to the theater. The attraction is open Friday through Sunday from 11 to 5.