By Michael Sugerman
An all-day commemoration at the intersection of Cliffwood Avenue and Sunset Boulevard celebrated the life of Julia Siegler ’14 on Feb. 26. The event marked the anniversary of the car accident that killed Siegler two years ago.
As students, friends, neighbors and family gathered, a day that was tainted by sadness became an outlet to remember her fondly. The intersection, now dubbed “Julia’s Corner” by friends and family, is decorated with purple, her favorite color.
Photos and personal notes, written in the wake of her death, still adorn the tree trunks surrounding the site. Purple rocks, inscribed with messages to Julia, lie under the trees, accopmanied by glass-encased memorial candles.
A mosaic designed by Jody Siegler, Julia’s mother, adds to the memorial site. Following her daughter’s death, Siegler discovered a therapeutic outlet for her grief in the Seattle Mosaic Arts Studio. She said the studio’s motto, “taking broken pieces and making something whole again,” resonated with her.
“My usual image of Julia was holding her in my arms,” she said. “I wanted to show a mother and a daughter with purple, sunshine and radiance. In my own mind now, [the mosaic] is more violent than rays of light. It is shattered. In the cold light of day at this corner, my life was shattered. Yet, I was going to pick up those fragments and create a public service message.”
Directly following Julia’s 2010 death, Jake Feiler ’13, Eli Kogan ’13 and Max Thoeny ’13 started a “Slow Down for Julia” campaign.
Embracing her favorite color, they sold purple wristbands to spread awareness and encourage safe driving. They also designed purple flyers that outlined basic driving laws and precautions.
Subsequently, Siegler collaborated with Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to establish a “Slow Down for Julia” fund. The fund was promoted via a press conference with the Los Angeles Police Department in the Brentwood area and has since raised money to promote motor safety.
As a result of the “Slow Down” campaign, the city cut down a handful of oak trees obstructing drivers’ vision on Cliffwood and lengthened the intersection’s crosswalks.
Last week, Rosendahl unveiled three new speed-tracking signs along Sunset at Anita Avenue, Kenter Avenue and North Bundy Drive at Octagon Street. These were paid for by the city, Mount St. Mary’s College and with $18,000 raised by Charlie Horowitz ’17 through his bar mitzvah.
Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts and Head of Middle School Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau are working with Feiler and Thoeny to redesign Harvard-Westlake bus safety procedures.
The two boys are currently compiling a film dedicated to Julia that will be mandatory for incoming families to watch. The video will teach students bus and vehicle safety.
“I try to embody the message that we’ve been trying to spread in our campaign, [to] just slow down,” Feiler said. “In driving of course, but in everyday life, it is important to think about how quickly life passes you by and to enjoy moments in the here and now.”
The “Slow Down for Julia” campaign also triggered movements for vehicle safety outside of Harvard-Westlake. Zoe Mooser, a senior at Archer School for Girls, started a “Slow Down for Sunset” movement, endorsing driver awareness.
“When anything like this happens in the community, it becomes a joint effort,” she said. “I drive, and the most important thing is to be careful. Things can happen in a split second.”
Reform aside, Siegler said Julia’s death dealt a blow to her family, friends and community. An artist, a dancer, an intellectual and “a wordsmith,” her absence will continue to be a source of both pain and inspiration, she said.
“When I had Julia, I was immediately grateful,” Siegler said. “However, I was also aware of the fleeting nature of time. [After Julia’s death], the ‘Slow Down’ campaign was so prophetic, because it was an exact philosophy of mine as a parent. The experiences that slow you down are often the ones that are harder to go through, because you are infinitely aware of the passage of time, but I think you can use that to really make the memories stick.”