Randlett King Lawrence is the kind of man you can only describe as a Letter. At 66, he has a face with deeply rooted smile lines that open whenever he meets someone new. He’s walking around with a pocket full of clear balls and a low-ball glass full of white wine, uttering phrases like “That bitch!” With such excitement that you can’t help but agree with him.
For his colleagues in the film industry, he is the creator of locations and props for films such as “Mulholland Drive” (2001) or “Children’s Play 2” (1990), the second film about a murderous doll named Chucky. But his neighbors in Echo Park know him as the man who built “Fantasma Gloria” — named for the massive tool of steel rebar and more than 1,000 stained glass bottles that loom above the facade of his Lemoyne Street home.
“I’m going to tell you all to come up the stairs—don’t look right,” he said eagerly as he led a small group from the dock to his yard on a sunny Sunday afternoon. “Then I will ask all of you to turn around together.”
The view deserves a big reveal: as the noonday sun streams across its colossal, freestanding statue, the curved glass bottles and marbles hanging from its large steel arches glow, becoming part of a multidimensional stained glass. An abstraction of the cyan and lime of the Virgin of Guadalupe radiates within a scheme of glossy red bottles. The huge stencil that Randy calls “Physical Betty” shines around the edges of the afro from tiny balls that flicker like tiny stars. Some of the statue’s bottles are filled with water, and inside these bottles, there are hundreds of delicate renditions of the skyline turned upside down.
“What you see now depends entirely on two factors,” he said as his visitors looked on. “One is what’s going on in the sky, specifically, where the light source is — the sun, or the moon, or an ambulance — and the other is how widespread the light is.”
Although he welcomes locals and eccentric strangers from all over the world, Randy is understandably private when people come to visit his masterpiece. In his ideal world, everyone would arrive about an hour before sunset to see the sun shine through the bottles at their favorite angles. In this way, the ongoing DIY project mirrors the work of artists like James Turrell, who has built skyscrapers across the country that present light shows at sunrise and sunset to manipulate the appearance of the sky.
Randy began constructing “Phantasma Gloria” around the turn of the millennium, when he was “despondent in a sea of despair because of an unfulfilled yearning to create something new and beautiful in the world.” One afternoon, as he gazed sadly at Mount Wilson from his window, a light inside a little blue glass bottle on the windowsill caught his eye.
“So I leaned in closer, put on my glasses, and saw those 10,000-foot cumulus clouds shrunken and upside down inside each one,” he said. And that glowing blue light was the sun itself. And that’s when I realized, “Oh my God, I could make a mosaic out of 1,000 glowing suns.”
Over the past 23 years, he has built and rebuilt the statue many times and taken various photographs of its evolution. As of 2023, “Fantasma Gloria” is about 30 feet high and 90 feet long – about the same length as three stretch limousines. Randy said that other than one friend who cleaned some bottles a few years ago, he made them all himself.
There are many reasons why Randy invites strangers to experience the beauty of his front yard. Sometimes he likes to wax poetic about catching thousands of stars; Other times, he’ll refer to the sculpture as “low hanging fruit”—a project so simple and natural to him that it would be a shame not to see it.
“Fruit is the sensory experience of life,” said Randy. “I’m trying to give you an idea of how to present the same exact combination of steel and glass in an ever-changing – and often wonderfully changing – visual experience.”
The sight of the statue isn’t the only thing that draws people to Randy’s front yard. Talking to him is often like talking to your favorite art teacher or your quirkier uncle: encouraging, quirky, and exciting all at once.
Randy explained one afternoon as he held a marble in front of my eyes.
He continued, “If you put the lens on, you can make an infinite number of visual experiences or images.”
Randy wasn’t always an artist in the traditional sense. Born on an “exotic island in New York Harbor” that most people know as Staten Island, he called himself an army brat. His family lived in Germany, Texas, New Mexico, and Virginia before moving to California. When his father traveled to Vietnam for his work in military intelligence, Randy’s mother decided to move the family from Donner Lake, California, to La Jolla. There, he begins to feel the need to capture and refract beauty.
“La Jolla is so beautiful and sensual,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in the water and under the water, and I think dope [I did] And the surroundings had a great influence on my imagination.”
After graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in economics, Randy worked as a reporter on what he calls “the strokes of bereavement”—writing about the recently deceased—for the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram.
He left that position to work as an organizer for the United Farm Workers before beginning to run local political campaigns and serve as a clerk on the Democratic whip in the California State Legislature. Once he got bored of it, he wandered around Mexico, staying afloat by importing duffel bags full of leather jackets which he resold in Los Angeles.
In the 1980s, when he was living with a girlfriend who gave him an ultimatum to either propose or leave, Randy got a job offer from a friend to build fake spaceships for Roger Corman—the pioneering director who launched the careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, and others. This job allowed him to relocate and became the beginning of his long-term career, working on props and laying construction for TV and movies.
Randy moved to his current home on Lemoyne Street in 1991, living there most of the time with his ex-wife, Nicole Lawrence. They remain close friends, and Randy is especially excited about Nicole’s next project: she’s planning a children’s book based on her experiences living in an artist’s home that was usually in disrepair.
“Nina lives with her artist father in a run-down old house with a giant glass dragon in their front yard,” Nicole writes in her book draft.
She later adds: “Nina knows that people also see that her house is old and dilapidated.” “The rooms have no doors, but there are a lot of holes in the walls.”
But even in the book, the whimsical home has redeeming qualities. By the end of the story, when Nina’s friend comes to visit and comments on how nice her house is, she begins to feel proud of living there.
The story is not far from reality. Randy first started building “Fantasma Gloria” when he was avoiding fixing a big hole in his backyard. He knows the house could use a little more hands-on love and attention inside, but he still has plans to build a giant dragon in the backyard.
“If you get into the river of creativity and stay there, you have to act on any idea—not all of them, but work on at least one all the time,” Randi said.
He continued, “When you’re done with it, you think about what you’ve done, and then the next thought will come.” And 20 years later you’ll be thinking, ‘Oh my God, my life has been so much more fun than it ever looked.'” “