A Second Life for Highland Park ‘Heritage Mural’

Mural was painted by renowned muralist and designed by East LA-based group.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Reporter

Volunteers rolled up their sleeves and tackled a layer of protective coating and years of graffiti on a historically significant mural on the corner of Avenue 56 and Meridian Way in Highland Park on Jan. 27. 

The mural, titled the “History of Highland Park,” was painted in 1977 and is considered part of the Chicano Movement of Muralism. 
Well-known and respected muralist Judy Baca, with assistance from artists Joe Bravo, Arnold Ramirez, Sonya Fe and Pedro Aguilar, painted the 250-foot-long mural. 
“It is one of my earliest works. I was a budding young muralist at the time and it is a work that was supported by the local Pac Bell at the time and the local community, and it was actually celebrating the uniqueness of Highland Park,” Judy Baca told EGP. 
It depicts the architecture of the area, stones from the Arroyo Seco, notable characters from the region, as well as kids from the “barrio” hanging out in front of a “low-rider.” 
“It’s a celebration of what was unique and beautiful about this region,” Baca said. 
Carmela Gomes, of the Highland Park Heritage Trust is one of many community members who fought for the mural to be restored. She told EGP that she hopes the mural will not be defaced again with graffiti once it is restored. She expressed confidence that the mural is being properly treated to resist future deterioration. 
The Highland Park Heritage Trust has been instrumental in establishing the largest historic overlay zone in Los Angeles, with over 2,500 structures.
Volunteers used biodegradable solvents, sponges and mops to release the bond between the protective coating and the murals’ acrylic paint, according to Carlos Rogel, project manager for the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) which is leading the restoration.
Many of the volunteers scrubbing down the walls are students in the “Beyond the Mexican Mural” course offered through the UCLA Cesar Chavez Digital Lab, he said. 
Once the mural is given a fresh coat of paint by Judy Baca and the other original artists, it will be coated with an anti-graffiti product and periodically maintained. 
Because Los Angeles was once known as the mural capital of the world, and is the place where the mural movement started before moving out across the country, murals must be preserved and more should be created, Councilmember Jose Huizar said during the reception to initiate the mural’s restoration. “When we allow that to be destroyed, our local community is destroyed,” Huizar said. 
The mural’s restoration is funded by a $78,000 grant from AT&T and comes after years of grassroots efforts to secure financing and sort out legal, financial, and artistic issues in order to restore the mural. 
Pacific Bell, now AT&T, commissioned Barrio Planners Inc. to create the mural during the 1970s as part of a modernization program in which the building was refaced, and all the building’s windows were covered over and the building was seismically retrofitted, according to Frank Villalobos, president of Barrio Planners.
“At the time it was unheard of that a mural this big would be done. We hired Judy Baca and sent her to Cuernavaca [Mexico] to learn—because we had an obligation to guarantee that it would not fade with the sun’s ultraviolet rays,” he said, noting that she brought ocres, sienna and yellow paints back to be tested locally to ensure they would not fade. “And that’s why it’s lasted this long,” he said.
The designing of the mural—which intertwines “today” and yesteryear—actually began two years prior to it being painted on the building, he said. 
While Barrio Planners oversaw the designing and painting of the mural, they no longer have legal claim to its future. It is still their’s, nonetheless, says Villalobos.
“I think art is not something you can give up claim to,” Villalobos said. “The inception of the idea that’s there, belongs to Barrio Planners forever, we have that in our hearts. 
“We actually brought something here 35 years ago. 1975 is when we designed the mural.
We hired Judy because she was the best qualified at the time…” One of the highest qualifications is that they are doing it for the sake of the public, he said. 
Barrio Planners is responsible for many public art projects including the iconic Whittier Boulevard Arc, Lincoln Park’s “Parque de Mexico,” the murals in front of the Telacu building (painted by Joe Gonzales), and the artwork at the Gold Line Civic Center Station.
Barrio Planners was the chief architect for the Gold Line Eastside Extension.
“We consider ourselves artists. As architects and urban planners we have a strong sense of identity and how strong the identity can made better throughout art,” he said.
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February 3, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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