Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

blog | | | | get involved | donate


Volume 9, Number 3 -- Fall, 1998



by Susana Bautista

Five years after publishing the first edition of “Street Gallery: Guide to 1000 Murals,” Robin Dunitz has now released the revised, second edition that includes more than 200 new murals created during the last five years, murals newly discovered by the author, and critical new issues in mural conservation. The revised edition has kept the same easy format with detailed street maps of 22 different areas in Los Angeles.

In her Introduction, Dunitz admits that despite her intentions to include both a history of Los Angeles murals and a comprehensive guide book in this revised edition, her search for new murals and artists "took on a life of its own." It is this fervor for new discoveries, however, that defines the new edition, although never at the expense of their history. Her first chapter, "The New Deal Art Projects, 1933-1943," gives an important historical context to later murals, but the following two chapters reveal her concern for new murals (both newly discovered and newly created) and current issues in mural conservation.

Front cover of Robin Dunitz'
"Street Gallery", the new second edition,
now available in paperback.


In the first chapter, Dunitz describes the regrettable demise of the 27-year collaboration between well-known local artist Millard Sheets and Home Savings of America that produced numerous mosaic and painted murals. With the 1998 acquisition of Home Savings by Washington Mutual, many branch offices will soon be closed, thus placing the respective murals in jeopardy. Dunitz ends this chapter with a plea for consideration of the fate of this "now historic art."

Dunitz also discusses the controversial whitewashing and subsequent repainting of Graffiti Pit in Venice Beach that occurred respectively in January and August, 1987. Graffiti Pit was widely recognized by both the local neighborhood and art community of Los Angeles as a "constantly changing gallery of spray can art," as Dunitz states. The recreation of this historical site was perhaps less spontaneous than its creation, with guidelines, community meetings, and approval of final images by city officials, but the event reaffirmed the important place of spray paint and graffiti murals within the mural history of Los Angeles. Dunitz briefly describes the beginnings of graffiti art in Los Angeles ghettoes and New York subway cars to their mainstream arrival in the mid-1970s in both cities, as well as the development of technological innovations that contributed to their transformation and acceptance.

Although Dunitz' text comprises less than a tenth of the entire guide, it provides first-time readers with a short history of murals, and gives updated information to readers more familiar with the murals of Los Angeles. The revised guide is an indispensable tool to anyone interested in the artistic wealth and diversity of this city. From internationally reknowned artists to community groups to self-trained local artists, these muralists have created a vibrant public art that speaks to everyone. Dunitz praises the spirit of these artists, noting the important role that murals play in society today. The artists' names are highlighted in each mural citation, and 45 pages are devoted to separate biographies for each artist at the end of the book.

Dunitz believes in the ability of murals to transform people and communities, particularly community murals. This is the driving force behind her fervent search to constantly revise and update the guide. "They [community murals] provide a vehicle for venting anger and frustration, and for expressing love and hope," says Dunitz in her Introduction.

Adolfo Nodal, General Manager of the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, contributed a Foreword to the book in which he also briefly describes the history of murals in this city from 1912 to the present. As he writes, "Because of the city's rich and diverse heritage, its temperate climate, ethnic mix, and extensive neighborhood involvement, murals are an integral part of cultural expression in Los Angeles." The Cultural Affairs Department has played a crucial role in supporting the conservation of murals through grants and the creation of new policies, and Mr. Nodal recognizes this revised edition as a "long needed" comprehensive guidebook to our city murals.




Robin Dunitz’ new edition of “Street Gallery” is just the latest in a growing catalogue of fine books she has published about mural art through her own RJD Enterprises. It is available through the Mural Conservancy for $20 along with “Painting the Towns” (see cover photo, right), $35, and three mural postcard books, “Los Angeles Murals,” “L.A. Murals by African-American Artists,” and “California Murals,” all priced at $7.50 apiece. Call or write MCLA for a complete Gift Order Brochure. Orders should include $2 for shipping; as always, MCLA members take a 20% discount.

Return to top of Newsletter


by Robin Dunitz

The following new murals were completed through November. If you want your public to know about your newest mural, please send the information, along with a picture if possible, to Robin Dunitz, PO Box 64668, Los Angeles 90064. Or you can call (310) 470-8864.


Eliseo Art Silva, assisted by Sybil Grinnell, “Toward a Better and More Beautiful World (a shenere un besere velt),” The Workman's Circle/Arbeter Ring, 1525 South Robertson Blvd., Beverlywood (West LA), acrylic, 57' x 20'. This mural is L.A.'s first tribute to Yiddish culture. Its various themes include Jewish holidays, education, immigrant rights, support for labor, social justice, struggles against fascism, and the Yiddish language. Among the figures depicted are Yiddish writers Sholem Aleichem, Mendele and Peretz, labor and human rights activists Emma Goldman, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Morris Hillquit and Chiune Sugihara.

Alma Lopez and Noni Olabisi, “Education is a Basic Human Right,” Angeles Mesa Branch Los Angeles Public Library, 2700 West 52nd Street, South L.A., 11' x 25'. This collaboration depicts two important desegregation cases in the U.S. featuring African American and Latino families.

Yreina Cervantez and Alma Lopez, “La Historia de Adentro/ La Historia de Afuera (History From Within/History From Without),” Huntington Beach Art Center, Main Street, Huntington Beach (Orange County). 14' to 24' high x 105' long. Shows the diversity of Orange County communities.

Eliseo Art Silva, assisted by Sybil Grinnell,
“Toward a Better and More Beautiful World
(a shenere un besere velt),” detail,
The Workman's Circle/Arbeter Ring
1525 South Robertson Blvd., Beverlywood
(West LA) Acrylic, 57' x 20', 1998.


Tim Fields, Untitled, 110 Fwy at Exposition Blvd., South L.A. Fields was assisted by volunteers from the Crippled Children's Society. The artist's 40th group mural.

Tim Fields, “Splish Splash,” 6655 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fields was assisted by 60 volunteers (3-50 years old). Underwater seascape.

Tim Fields, “Swing Into Your Future,” Salesian Boys and Girls Club, 3218 Wabash Avenue, City Terrace. Fields was assisted by 40 volunteers; acrylic, 20' x 60'. The characters are swinging from the 'tree of knowledge' into their careers. Represented are health care, the arts, sports, science/technology and ecology.

Tim Fields, “Garden View,” Grace's Place (drug/rehab center), Santa Fe Springs. Fields was assisted by 10 volunteers. 10' x 50'. Done in 3 hours for United Way's Day of Caring.

Pixie Guerrin, “Flower Dance,” 8th Street at Wall, Downtown L.A. Acrylic, 70' (wide) x 10' (high). Figures dancing and jumping among flowers of many varieties.

Sacred, Untitled, St. Louis and Goodrich, City of Commerce. Spraycan.


Hope L. Garron, “Untitled,” Director's Sound, 1150 West Olive (at Virginia), Burbank, 20' x 50', 1998.

Hope L. Garron, Untitled, Director's Sound, 1150 West Olive (at Virginia), Burbank. 20' x 50'. Portraits of 75 directors who have used this recording studio.

Elliott Pinkney and Ricardo Mendoza, “5 murals,” Orizaba Park, Orizaba Avenue at Spaulding, Long Beach. Pinkney and Mendoza were assisted by Lee and Huntington Elementary School students, 28 Summer Youth Employment Training Program participants and 8 Cherry-Temple Neighborhood youth artists.

Tim Fields, “Zeus and the Nine Muses,” Wilshire Crest Elementary School, Olympic Blvd. at Sycamore (one block east of La Brea), Mid-city L.A. Fields was assisted by 26 fifth grade volunteers. This is the artist's 50th group mural in Los Angeles.


Mear, Moses, Fever, Yem, and others, Untitled, La Brea Ave. and Pico, Mid-city. Spraycan.

Mear, Crush, Saber, Untitled, Melrose and La Brea, West Hollywood. Spraycan.


Eva Cockroft and Alessandra Moctezuma, “Homage to Siqueiros,” Self-Help Graphics, 3802 Cesar Chavez Ave., East Los Angeles. Cockroft and Moctezuma were assisted by Gabriel Galan, Jaime “Vyal” Reyes, Silvana Paredes, Chris Pizano, Daniel, and Miriam del Solar. Title lettering by Chaz Bojorquez. Based on Siqueiros’ “America Tropical.”

Eva Cockroft and Alessandra Moctezuma working on “Homage to Siqueiros,” Self-Help Graphics, 3802 Cesar Chavez Ave., East Los Angeles, 1998.



by Orville O. Clarke, Jr.

Most people who have any interest in art know of the destruction of Diego Rivera's mural "Man at the Crossroads" at the Rockefeller Center in New York [1934], yet few are aware of the crisis that galvanized the Los Angeles art world with the obliteration of Maxine Albro's murals at the Ebell Clubhouse in 1935. What was so important about this incident was the question of whether or not a patron could censor the work of an artist. The battle was over who actually controlled the artwork--the artist or the patron. This became a critical issue for artists working under the Federal Art Programs, and is one that remains unresolved today.

The theme of this Greek tragedy was summed up best by the famous English painter, J.M.W. Turner, who said, "It takes two persons to create a picture: one to do the painting, the other to stop him when it is completed." Maxine Albro was an important California artist whose murals graced the homes of some of the Bay Area's leading citizens. Her fresco, "Agriculture," was one of a series of murals commissioned by the Public Works of Art Project for Coit Tower in San Francisco. Unfortunately, in a scenario that was to be repeated in the Southland, the artist ran afoul of conservative tastes and refused to change her mural to satisfy the demands of the Women's Club. As the artist stated, "I have met a lot of those women and liked them. But they are not all modern in their spirit. They don't know what's going on in art."

Albro chose what must have seemed a safe subject to place in this Women's Club in Los Angeles. Because the building was Mediterranean in style, the artist decided to decorate the Club's patio with a series of murals of four Sibyls in what was called a "primitive Italian manner." Between the arched doorways of the garden patio she placed two life-sized figures, the Erythraean and Roman Sibyls. Delphian and Cumean Sibyls were located over the doors at either end of the loggia. Over seven feet in height, the frescoes were noted for their brilliant color, which seemed to one critic's eye to transform the patio into a scene from Old Mexico.

Unfortunately, the leaders at the Ebell were not impressed. The murals were referred to as "circus posters" and were considered undignified for the "staid elegance" of the Club. The ladies of the Club were questioned for their understanding of the artistic merit of the murals, as the press called Albro "one of the great mural painters of this generation." San Francisco papers were even more critical with "barely restrained guffaws," as they watched the affair in total disbelief. They pointed out the fact that Albro, a celebrated muralist, commanded thousands of dollars for her frescoes. She had literally donated these murals to the Club, as she had asked only for expenses, and not her usual fee. Reaction from the critics was surprising. While most agreed with Alma May Cook, who called them "an important contribution to the art of the city," almost all local art critics sided with the Club's right to do with the artwork what it wanted. Harry Kurtzworth, critic for Saturday Night, was more forceful in chiding the leaders of the Ebell for their timidity in not acting more decisively. "It is not the artists who lack the courage. It is the patrons who falter most in the arduous task of thus learning to be patrons," he wrote.

When the murals were finally painted over, the critic for the Los Angeles Examiner noted, "What the able, modern brush of the San Francisco artist, Maxine Albro, failed to accomplish was finally achieved by the slap-dash strokes of an unfeeling house painter." However, the Club was not done with their desecration of the mural. The Los Angeles Examiner wrote, "Not content with the usual whitewashing process of removal, Ebell authorities urged immediate work to begin on chipping away both the murals and the plaster covering of the walls."

Arthur Millier, the insightful art critic for the Los Angeles Times, while acknowledging their right to paint over the mural, decried the Club's desire to chip away the plaster. " And I, as one whose very job it is to foster art, could not hold up my head again unless I had tried to save this beautiful, living thing, this springtime promise to a land which is destined to bloom with unnumerable flowers of art," wrote Millier.

The battle continues today to save these "living things" from destruction by you, the good people who support organizations such as the Mural Conservancy. Thank you for caring!



by Nathan Zakheim

There is ample evidence that murals of various types are not only works of art, but even temporary works such as the murals in the caves of Lascaux, Native American petroglyphs, desert sand paintings etc., can be classified as fine art. It is surprising to discover today that there are some views that would exclude outdoor murals from the realm of fine art.
We have personally seen many fine frescoes in the Braja district of Uttar Pradesh that have been exposed to the very inclement Indian weather for over five hundred years. Pompeii also contains many murals that have survived burial in volcanic ash as well as the ravages of weather and time. Certainly, any archaeologist would react in horror if it were suggested that the outdoor murals of his/her discovery were to be considered "temporary" works to be repainted as soon as a few chips would appear lost from the surface.

The “Last Supper” of Leonardo Da Vinci was painted using a concoction of ill-considered paints and mediums created by the artist himself. Within sixty years this masterpiece had begun to deteriorate, and a long series of "restorers" began their sequential multi-century work of "restoring" Leonardo's work. It has taken many times longer to remove the work of these "restorers" than it did to paint the mural in the first place! Yet no one claims that the “Last Supper” should be painted over simply because it was a mural exposed to the elements.

In Los Angeles, the J.Paul Getty Museum has developed an extremely costly plan to restore the mural on Olvera Street painted by David Alfaro Siqueiros, the noted Mexican muralist. Not only is the mural outside, but the L.A. City government saw fit to promptly whitewash it over due to its controversial radical political content shortly after its creation. The name Siquieros is enough to cause a quick intake of breath by any art professional today, but that name was not enough to prevent the attempt at the mural's destruction over 60 years ago.

Today's troublemaking artist may in some cases become a great master of 20th century art. Although such masters are few and far between, we cannot act on the assumption that all outdoor works by contemporary artists are temporary and meant to be painted over after a lifetime of five to ten years.

Art is art, and only the test of time can separate the inspired works from the dross. In a nation where it is supposed to be "self evident that all men are created equal," we must give history a chance to choose our masters from our hacks. Until that distant time, it is wise for us to adopt the view that if it was good enough art to be painted in the first place, then it is good enough to be given suitable respect as well as conscientious preservation.

An outdoor mural is generally made from the same kind of paint as easel paintings. Whatever conditions can be expected from those paintings, can also be expected from the mural. The modern materials used to paint murals are generally light-fast, made of high quality ingredients, and composed of a strong integrated film with a longer life expectancy than typical house paint, which is meant to be repainted every ten to twenty years.

More important to the longevity of a mural is the preparation of the wall on which it is painted. Many murals using fine quality mural paints will prematurely deteriorate due to separation from the wall on which they are painted because of a lack of wall preparation. When it is found that a mural has become deteriorated or "faded" due to a lack of wall preparation or lack of protective coatings, conservation techniques perfected over the last half century can be applied to such murals to revive them within the parameters of the artist's original intent. Once consolidated and re-attached to their wall, they can be expected to remain in fine condition for many years to come.

A properly prepared or conserved mural using artist quality paints can be expected to last one hundred years or longer, as long as a minimal maintenance program is observed. This projection has been established by the manufacturers of mural paints, and results have been obtained using artificial aging techniques in special laboratories.




The Tour Committee, which has run the successful and highly regarded Mural Bus Tours for years, has talked about doing a video featuring some of the best murals and muralists that riders have been seeing for nearly as many years. So, for a change, the group, headed by Robin Dunitz and Jim Kenney, will take the first half of 1999 off of the usual schedule of tours in order to work on the long dreamt of tape.

The volunteers have been developing a shooting script, and are making arrangements to produce sample footage in order to generate financial backing for the project. The goal is to produce about a 30-minute documentary that will be of broadcast quality and that mural fans will be proud to add to their libraries (and which will become another in the every-growing catalogue of gift items offered by the Mural Conservancy).

No, this does not spell the beginning of the end of the tours. The abbreviated schedule will be announced in the Spring, 1999 Newsletter. While occasionally the tours have failed to sell out--usually, to be honest, when a tour is more innovative and less tried and true--they remain a popular, and important, part of MCLA’s efforts to aid public appreciation of the Southland’s public murals.

While no decision has been made, one concern being wrestled with by the Committee is the increasing cost of the bus
rentals. But the central thought has been to bring some semblance of the experience enjoyed by participants on the road for a day of mural art and muralist talk.

If you think you may have something worthwhile to contribute to the Tour Committee’s work please contact volunteer coordinator Al Gorsky by calling MCLA at (213) 481-1186 or completing and sending the volunteers’ form that appears on page 7 of the Newsletter. If you might be interested in becoming and angel for the video project please give Robin Dunita a call direct at (310) 470-8864.




Grants from the California Arts Council [CAC] and the L.A. County Arts Commission will aid the Mural Conservancy’s Mural Rescue Program [MRP] and Web site respectively. The modest CAC help increases from the usual $2,000 to $4,000 for 1998/99. We’ll take what we can get to add an extra mural to the MRP! The County Arts Commission kicks in with a two-year grant in excess of $3,000 per year that will help us continue to add content to, most visibly at least doubling the number of images accompanying the mural pages.




The Arts and Business Council of Santa Paula, California is planning a series of history-based murals in the historic downtown area. Murals will range in size from 300 square feet to over 1,000 square feet. Mural artists are asked to send a set of up to 20 slides of current work with SASE for return. Also include a resume and any additional documentation on previous mural work. Resumes will be kept on file for possible consideration on future murals.

Send packets to:
Arts and Business Council of Santa Paula
c/o Howard Bolton
1401 E. Main Street
Santa Paula, CA 93060
For more information call 805-525-5868.

Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles Journal

Published quarterly, © 1999, Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA).

Editor: Bill Lasarow
Contributing Editors:
Robin Dunitz, Orville O. Clarke, Jr., Nathan Zakheim
Masthead Logo Design: Charles Eley.

The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles was formed to help protect and document murals, and enhance public awareness of mural art in the greater Los Angeles area. These programs are made possible by the tax-deducible dues and donations of our members, the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, the California Arts Council, the National/State/County Partnership Program, and the Brody Fund of the California Community Foundation.