Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

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Volume 7, Number 1 - Fall, 1995


It's been on the boards and in development for the last four months, and it is now a reality. The Mural Conservancy is going "on-line" in the World Wide Web. The Web is the part of the computer Internet--the information super-highway--that features graphics, visuals, even audio that is accessible in home computers anywhere in the world.

Planned free access to information on over 1,000 public murals in the L.A. area and over 200 muralists will be included with gobs of MCLA goodies. To get to it you must have a PC with a modem, and a Web account with a specialized Web service provider or one of the commercial on-line services such as America On-Line or Compuserve.

The site address is: You will find a growing base of mural-only information from this "home page" starting point. Let us know what you think!


During the summer, on Tuesday, August 1st, character actress Lillian Bronson died at age 92.

During her long career she appeared on Broadway with Lillian Gish and performed in films with Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda (among many others). On television she played a judge on the Perry Mason Show and Fonzie's grandmother on Happy Days.

However, her longest and probably most prominent role was in a 30-foot tall painting overlooking the Hollywood Freeway. For 12 years her afghan-draped portrait, in the form of Kent Twitchell's The Old Lady of the Freeway, greeted millions of passersby.

The mural was one of twelve funded by the National Endowment for the Arts during 1973 and 1974 under the auspices of the Inner City Mural Program. Twitchell selected Ms. Bronson from a Screen Actors Guild catalogue because she resembled two of his great-grandmothers. He wanted to help make the elderly as valued and visible as the mass media makes the young and the trendy.
The mural was painted on the Prince Hotel at 125 West Temple Street. Almost immediately the elegant white-haired woman became a beloved local landmark.

The tremendous outcry should have come as no surprise, therefore, when, in 1986, the popular icon was whitewashed by building owner Koichi Kurokawa in order to use the space for advertising. Friends and supporters of the artist were outraged. The increased awareness that public art needs vocal and on-going community support led to the creation of MCLA in 1987.

Twitchell sued Kurokawa, citing a violation of the California Art Preservation Act, which requires owners to give artists 60 days notice before altering or destroying a public work of art on their property. In 1992 a California court ruled that murals were indeed covered by the law, and shortly thereafter an out-of-court settlement was reached.

Unfortunately, little progress has been made since 1992. Kurokawa has not paid the money agreed to as part of the settlement. Working with conservator Nathan Zakheim, Twitchell removed a layer of paint covering the mural's eyes, but almost immediately even that small section was painted over again.

Earlier this year, Twitchell told participants on an MCLA tour of his murals around the city that he intends to repaint the Freeway Lady by the end of the year. Due to the attitude of the building owner, however, he expects to find an alternate site to relocate her.

Mural lovers throughout Southern California anxiously await the return of a cherished image that immortalizes the late Lillian Bronson.
--Robin Dunitz


The Mural Conservancy was among state arts organizations that will receive a grant for 1996 from the dwindling resources of the California Arts Council (CAC). The $2,000 grant will help support the
Mural Rescue Program, as does the annual support provided by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.

The CAC continues to downsize due to California's ever-shrinking tax base and rightward political drift. At least MCLA's ongoing protection of local public mural art remains enough of a priority to retain this modest level of continuing assistance.

One plan that has helped bring needed revenue into the CAC's art education support program coffers is the Arts License Plate.

The Arts License Plate is a special automobile license plate featuring a palm tree and sunset motif designed by California artist Wayne Thiebaud. The cost of only $20 goes directly to the CAC.

For information and an application to receive an Arts License Plate call 1 (800) 201-6201, or write the CAC at their new offices, 1300 I Street, Suite 930, Sacramento, CA 95814.


The appeal of public murals is broad because of their ready accessibility to large numbers of people who might not otherwise gain exposure to art in galleries or museums. Not only does this make for a lively and unpredictable relationship between the artist and the public, but opens the door for grassroots support and encouragement that can come from unexpected quarters. Thus the existence of the Ventura County Mural Project remained invisible to those involved in Los Angeles' mural movement until Charlie McCormick, a former environmental engineer who began photographing Ventura County murals last summer, made himself known to the Mural Conservancy.

Grasping the basic concept that murals represent a significant local cultural resource that is fundamental to the expression of American identity, McCormick has become something of a preacher for the cause of public awarness of mural art. Near the top of his agenda for fostering this are his mobile mural displays, essentially a collage of photographs of one or more murals mounted on painted or matted plastic panels. Light and portable, these displays are designed to be temporarily presented in heavily traffiked public places. The development of his mobile displays have stimulated an ambitious vision of a "Murals of America" campaign that would encompass everything from books to TV programming. Let's not get ahead of ourselves yet!

What McCormick has to this point achieved of note is the photographic documentation of an enormous swath of the murals of Ventura County. He asserts that, based on this work, he has produced "proof that Ventura County deserves public recognition as a world-class center for mural arts." Whether or not his reams of pictures substantiate the assertion is yet to be determined, but it is undeniable that Ventura County must now be regarded as a productive force in the mural movement that needs to be looked at more closely. McCormick's photographs provide the basis for such an investigation.
--Bill Lasarow


Strollers and skaters along the Venice Boardwalk have a ready familiarity with the chick on roller skates leading a parade of familiar local denizens down a reflection of the famous beach strip. In 1989 the original version of Venice Reconstituted was enlarged and moved to the St. Mark's Hotel thanks to the Neighborhood Pride mural program.

The ground level exposure of his masterpiece to such large, rough-edged crowds of pedestrians gave artist Rip Cronk an idea to both invite and curb potential graffiti problems. By painting the pavement, lawn and beach that fills the foreground of the image in a splatter technique, even adding some of his own original graffiti ("culture atones") to the illusory walls of beachfront buildings, any graffiti tends to get integrated into the painting.

Thankfully graffiti has rarely troubled this much revered mural, but when it does Cronk is able to control the stuff by resplattering or integrating it into the composition.

This attitude allows for a small amount of revision to take place within the context of the occasional defacment. Rather than a static interpretation of Venice/Venus, Cronk continues to deepen his poetic license in the course of routine maintenance.

After disappearing from the local scene to spend more than a year in Europe, Cronk suddenly resurfaced during the summer and once again returned to the painting. This time he also decided to take further liberties with the particulars of the image, the most visible of which is Venus' new thought balloon asserting that "History is Myth."

Based on Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli's original, this Pacific Rim Venus enjoys the hovering protection of Botticelli's Spring and the forward propulsion of Fall. The newly intrusive thought not only animates our neo-Venus, it fixes the notion that the real place and people represented as part of the mural's narrative provides the story by which we see ourselves reflected in time. It represents the artist's self-awareness of how the meaning of art changes over time even if the image remains fixed.

For now, at least, we have no guarantee that Venus Reconstituted won't be altered, possibly in ways that could ruin her for us. This somehow makes the mural more interesting and precious than ever.
Now included in MCLA's Mural Rescue Program, the Mural Conservancy is primarily dedicated to providing Cronk with the materials and supplies he needs whenever he wishes to touch-up or rework his Venice. Whenever he decides the work is "finished", or is unable to revisit it any longer, MCLA will provide whatever ongoing protection is required. But for the foreseeable future, we'll help keep it a work in progress.
--Bill Lasarow

Back Issues:
Summer, 1995

Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles Journal

Published quarterly, © 1995, Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA).

Editor: Bill Lasarow
Contributing Editors:
Robin Dunitz, Orville O. Clarke, Jr., Richard Solomon, 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.