COLD CASE

Alta Helps Recover L.A. Library Sculpture Missing for 50 Years

Our article led to the discovery of the missing Well of the Scribes—but parts of it are still lost. Join us in finding the rest of this prized bronze.

Alta featured a Cold Case article in its summer 2019 issue about a bronze sculpture known as the Well of the Scribes that went missing from the Los Angeles Central Library 50 years ago. An antiques dealer in Bisbee, Arizona, named Floyd Lillard came across the story soon after it posted online. He was performing a semiregular ritual: searching the web for clues about this thing he had in his apartment. A piece of curving bronze sculpture depicting a procession of scribes. He’d been in the business long enough to know it was something important.

Alta is thrilled to report that what Lillard has is a section of the Well itself. It hadn’t been melted down or forgotten in a warehouse like the Ark of the Covenant. It had been dismantled. Lillard bought this section about 10 years ago from a woman in Sierra Vista, a town near Bisbee. She was from California; her father, Lillard vaguely remembers, worked for the city. Lillard bought the piece from her for $500. He hauled it out of her garden and back to Bisbee.

One portion of the Well of Scribes has been located and will soon be returned to the Los Angeles Central Library.JANSON BOOK/LEELAWRIE.COM
One portion of the Well of Scribes has been located and will soon be returned to the Los Angeles Central Library.

After our article ran, Lillard put in calls to Alta and the Los Angeles Central Library. The city librarian, John Szabo, has already been out to visit and confirmed the sculpture’s authenticity. There are discussions afoot to return the piece to its home in downtown L.A. 

City Librarian John Szabo of the Los Angeles Public Library (right) excitedly views a piece of the well that has been missing for 50 years. Bisbee, Arizon antique dealer Floyd Lillard recently contact the library after reading an Alta article online.MARK LEVY/HERALD/REVIEW
City Librarian John Szabo of the Los Angeles Public Library (right) excitedly views a piece of the Well of the Scribes that has been missing for 50 years. Bisbee, Arizona, antiques dealer Floyd Lillard contacted the library after reading Alta‘s Cold Case article.

But, gentle reader, you see that this is a mystery only partly solved:

WHO IS THE WOMAN FROM SIERRA VISTA?
WHERE ARE THE TWO OTHER PIECES OF THE WELL?
LILLARD’S MEMORY IS PATCHY. BUT SUDDENLY IT’S
LOOKING A LOT MORE LIKE THE REST OF THE WELL IS
STILL OUT THERE, SPARED THE SMELTER’S TOUCH.
 

So we’re enlisting you to help us reunite the Well of the Scribes once and for all. Ever seen an architectural relic in the backyard of a family friend or at a cousin’s place that looks an awful lot like Pegasus brokering a deal? Let us know! You can email tips@altaonline.com. (We won’t share your name if you don’t want us to.) Stay tuned. There’s more treasure out there.

Whatever Happened to the Well of the Scribes?

This find is making headlines around the country: 

Sculpture returns to L.A. Central Library after turning up in Arizona 50 years after mysteriously disappearing — KTLA

Long-lost bronze sculpture was discovered in Bisbee antique shop and returned to LA library — AZ Central

Lost for 50 years, a once-missing sculpture has returned to the Los Angeles LibraryWashington Post

3,000 pound missing statue returned to library 50 years laterWTHR

Los Angeles Library statue found in Arizona after 50 Years. See its return.NBC4

Panel from missing L.A. Public Library sculpture found after 50 yearsFOX News 

City Librarian John Szabo unveils the Well of the Scribes at Central LibraryEsotouric

Watch as the Los Angeles Central Library unveils the found portion of the Well of the ScribesABC7

A long lost sculpture returns to L.A. but the mystery continuesLos Angeles Times

Portion of a missing sculpture returned to Central LibraryLos Angeles Downtown News

Brandon Reynolds explains the mystery of the long-lost Well of the ScribesKCRW

Hear Brandon Reynolds discuss the discovery on SoCal Public Radio — 89.3 KPCC

A piece of a missing L.A. Library sculpture was found in Arizona. Where are the other two?Los Angeles Times

Lost for decades, bronze library sculpture turns up in Arizona Curbed Los Angeles

Mystery Solved: Sculpture missing for 50 years found in BisbeeHerald/Review

A piece of a sculpture missing for 50 years was found in a Bisbee antique storeKOLD News 13 (video)

Piece of missing sculpture resurfaces in antiques store 50 years laterUPI (video)

Arizona antique dealer helps Los Angeles Library reunite with lost art Arizona Daily Star

The final two pieces of the Well of the Scribes remain unaccounted for—but they’re out there somewhere. If you have any information on their whereabouts, please drop us a line at tips@altaonline.com.

A recently recoved piece of the bronze Well of Scribes. The well has been missing since 1969 when the city of Los Angeles demolished part of the Central Library.MARK LEVY/HERALD/REVIEW
The recently discovered section of the Well of the Scribes. The bronze sculpture has been missing since 1969 when the city of Los Angeles demolished part of the Central Library. If you know anything about the whereabouts of the missing sections, contact tips@altaonline.com.