Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

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Volume 7, Number 3 -- Spring, 1996




The coming year's Mural Rescue Program (MRP) picture had been clouded by a determination by MCLA's Maintenance Committee that many of the murals presently included in the Program are requiring fresh work. For example, Alonzo Davis' "Eye on '84" mural on the Harbor Freeway has experienced serious peeling of its urethane coating. What this implied was whether during the coming year MCLA would place its resources into further MRP additions or upgrading the maintenance of the now twenty-two murals already included.

The Cultural Affairs Department helped answer this difficult question in the best possible way when the grants for the coming fiscal year were released in May: There will be room for doing both.
At $9,000 the 1996/97 grant represents the largest thus far awarded, and translates into MCLA being able to have things both ways.

One important change in the ongoing maintenance of murals that are part of the MRP program will be the professionalization of mural cleaning. In the past this has been an entirely volunteer-based activity. While there will continue to be in-the-field sessions requiring volunteer assistance from activist MCLA members, the more dangerous and routine jobs will be assigned to one or more specialized contractors. Happily there has never been an injury sustained by an MCLA volunteer (our rules of safety have always been assiduously employed), but it is the Board's feeling that the new practice will further reduce such a possibility.

In another policy decision, the Board has removed the deadline cycle from the MRP application process. This means that an application may be requested and submitted at any time. The Board will consider each individual case based on its merits for immediate inclusion, planned inclusion, or denial of inclusion in the MRP.



Helen Lundeberg's 1940 mural, "History of Transportation" (detail, above), located in Centinela Park, Inglewood, has been the subject of restoration planning effort for more than five years. MCLA Board member Nathan Zakheim told the City of Inglewood that a complete restoration of this important mural would cost around $500,000. The City is trying to get the job done for less by having Zakheim restore one panel, then getting supervised volunteers to finish the job. The mural would also be placed in a more prominent location, though a specific plan has still not been determined.


If you are an artist who has created a public mural, or if you know and love a public mural that needs protection, the Mural Rescue Program provides important services for a select group of murals based on the following criteria:
· Aesthetic merit
· Geographic and cultural diversity
· Feasibility
· Public Access

Until now MCLA conducted an annual application process. At it May Board meeting, it was decided that submissions may be made on behalf of a particular mural irregardless of any deadline consideration.

To order an application call or write the Mural Conservancy:
(213) 481-1186, PO Box 86244, Los Angeles, CA 90086.

Or, print out a form directly from the Web site:

Part 2: A Case Study

By Nathan Zakheim


We were brought to inspect reports of deterioration of a coating on a public mural that shall remain unnamed.

1. The report of unpeeling paint led us to discover that the urethane coating had finally begun to detach itself from the painted mural surface in larger and larger areas. As our previous inspection report indicated, the de-lamination began as sporadic, and having severely oxidized (which included yellowing as well as a tendency toward opacity) obscured the vivid colors beneath the areas where the yellowed urethane coating was lifted from the painted surface, but not yet flaked away from the surface. The underlying brilliant colors would then appear as pastel due to the semi-opacity of the urethane coating.

2. Now that larger areas have delaminated, we can see that there is a largely intact field of color under the exfoliated urethane sheets, but that the pigment is now covered with very severe discoloring and thick layers of road grime that has sifted into the "pockets" formed by the somewhat loosened coating.

3. "Road grime" consists of the following:
Smog and auto emission residue. Airborne dust particles. Powder from brake lining wear as well as powdered tire rubber. Organic matter from de-composing tree leaves, grass, paper etc. Spores and molds that begin to take root in the organic matter.

4. The road grime has built up a film over the exposed paint layer and in some cases has caked into a highly pigmented crust of pollutants.

5. As the urethane began to split from the wall, the surface of the mural paint has tended to adhere to it, and thus the paint layer has been split to some degree or another. No doubt the tight covering of urethane has also created some sort of micro-environment that has promoted the break-down of the mural paint by facilitating water vapor to form from moisture that has leeched in from the reverse side of the concrete wall that supports the mural (The sun heating the front of the mural both draws the moisture to the urethane covered surface, but also causes it to become vapor that can then attack the water soluble elements in the mural paint itself). If the urethane coating were not there, the vapor would pass through the mural paint and be evaporated into the atmosphere causing little or no damage to the paint film.

6. It is also likely that the paint layer did not have enough binder at the outset. We draw this conclusion due to the fact that the "skin" (surface layer) of the mural paint became fused to the urethane coating, and when the coating began to peel away, it took a very thin layer of the mural paint surface with it leaving a layer of underbound pigment that tends to be friable and powder. This would indicate that the paint used did not contain a sufficient amount of binder to fully saturate the pigment of the paint. Another explanation would be that the microenvironment created under the urethane coating caused the binder to crystalize and for the water soluble elements to break down, causing the paint to appear friable.

NOTE: If good quality paints are used, with acrylic gel or medium added to the tube or jar paints, the mural paint film thus formed becomes very "plastic" or "rubbery" and resists the tendency to powder. Of course, the acrylic medium can itself crystalize, and begin to form microscopic "crumbs" that give the impression of underbound pigments.

Such crumbling of the acrylic layer can be immediately corrected by spraying the affected area with mist coats of xylene. For even better results, a 10% solution of Acryloid B-66 or B-72 diluted in xylene can be applied via spray to the surface of the crumbling mural surface in gradual layers until full saturation is achieved. This not only consolidates the crystallized crumbs of acrylic into a flexible plastic film once again, but fully restores the original depth of color that invariably takes on a pastel aspect during the crumbling process. Refraction of light makes the broken surface of the pigment layer appear pastel, just as ceramic glazes tend to appear "white" until fired.


1. Obtain a source of hot water (Buckets, drums, water-blasting unit with heater, gas fired burner on which pots of water can be heated, "igloo coolers" filled with boiling water etc.)

2. Mix the water to be applied with Shaklee Basic-H. (1/16 tsp per gallon of water)

3. Spray a generous application of this solution onto the entire mural being careful not to brush or scrub any area at first.

4. Use small "pattern wheels" (rowers) to perforate the blistering areas of urethane.

5. Use small hand held sprayers and a sponge to thoroughly wet areas that are covered with caked on black road grime.

6. Carefully wipe the areas of grime away with the sponge. Stop immediately if there is excessive pigment loss.

7. Go to the areas that are fully blistered and carefully scrub them with a bristle scrub brush (a vegetable scrub brush works well) while continually spraying the water mixture onto the surface.

8. You will find that some areas will clean easily, while others stubbornly resist. Once the easy areas are clean, spray more solution at an angle to the resistant edges and wait for a while. (if they begin to loosen or curl back, then scrub the new areas carefully with the brush. If they do not loosen, add more pinholes with the wheel and repeat the process. If they cannot be loosened, then leave them alone.

9. Rinse the wall with flowing, clear water. (A pressure system with a reservoir would be useful. The pressure should be set at no more than 75 psi.)

NOTE: The end result, if the coating removal is incomplete, will have a unsightly blotchy appearance almost identical to a badly peeling sunburn. The newly revealed mural surface will be bright and colorful, and the areas still covered by a stubborn layer of urethane, will be several shades darker. This contrast may not be so very noticeable to the traffic driving by.


1. Allow the surface to dry for at least one day. This means a HOT day. With temperatures below 60 degrees F. several drying days should be allowed

2. Spray Acryloid B-72 dissolved in xylene onto the newly cleaned areas. Overspray onto the urethane is O.K. if not excessive.

3. When the Acryloid B-72 is set (2-4 hours), spray a coating of Soluvar onto the surface as an intermediate protective reversible varnish. Soluvar, which dissolves in petroleum naphtha, can act as a graffiti barrier, since it can be removed from under the spray-can graffiti. It is not a good substitute for sacrificial wax, however, as the spray graffiti sometimes penetrates the Soluvar layer and attacks the mural surface.

4. Wait for six months or a year to repeat the above process on any areas of urethane coating that may remain. A third treatment should not be required as the accelerated disintegration of the urethane will probably be complete by that time.

5. Apply the sacrificial spray wax to the areas that are clear of the urethane. It is not desirable for the remaining urethane coated areas to be treated with sacrificial wax. It is advisable to mask such areas with visqueen when the wax is being applied.


by Richard Solomon

With the establishment of the Conservancy's World Wide Web site showcasing Los Angeles murals, the interesting question is raised whether muralists need to provide consent when photographs of their murals are placed there. The Web site information--which includes material about the Mural Conservancy itself, biographical sketches about muralists, and information and photographs of Los Angeles' public murals--is accessible to a world-wide audience.

Generally the creator or owner of a work of art needs to consent before photographs of it are reproduced, especially if the reproduction is done for profit. However, authors and publishers can make what is called "fair use" of artwork by, for example, including photo reproductions in catalogues or critical articles. Assuming that consent is preferable, MCLA makes every effort to explain the Web project to the mural community and obtain the consent of as many muralists as possible.

Where an artist is deceased, MCLA makes a reasonable effort to contact next-of-kin for consent. Similarly, where an artist has no current address or forwarding information available, MCLA also tries to determine their whereabouts. If these efforts fail, MCLA adds the mural to the Web site with the same biographical and technical information included for other murals. The Board policy is that if an artist, or a relative of the artist, should object to this placement the image will immediately be removed, even though this is not a requirement under "fair use."

We hope readers agree that MCLA's policy best accomodates the potentially conflicting interests of a mural artist who may want to limit or prevent electronic depiction of their mural(s), and mural lovers who want access to as much material about the murals as possible.
Richard Solomon


by Robin Dunitz, MCLA Tour Director

Have you noticed the lone tan skyscraper and the intriguing dome that now grace the back of Union Station in Downtown L.A.? Many tour participants have been asking me about these unfamiliar new embellishments on the downtown landscape in recent months.

This 7-acre site is the new Gateway Transit Center, a joint development of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and Catellus Development Corporation, which not only links the city bus system with Amtrak and the MetroRail, but also offers an exciting new public space that comes resplendent with art. The loose thread that ties it all together is the theme of Los Angeles: past, present and future.

Anyone can take an art walk around the new center. Here is a possible route:

If you arrive by car, probably the easiest place to park is right at Union Station (North Alameda Street between the 101 Freeway and Cesar Chavez Avenue). Enter the Station through the front door and head straight back. Your first stop is the East Portal at the rear of the Station. Union Station was the last large metropolitan passenger terminal built in the United States (1934-39). The architects' (John and Donald Parkinson) color consultant, Herman Sachs, was also active in the interior design of City Hall, and he painted a mural on the rear entrance ceiling of the Bullocks-Wilshire building.

You'll know you've made it to the East Portal when you find yourself under a massive, intricately patterned glass dome. Also in this transitional indoor environment is a collaborative work by artist May Sun, muralist Richard Wyatt and architect Paul Diez, called "City of Dreams, River of History."

The aquarium, mural, floor tiles and river bench together give you a sense of the history and pre-history of this location. Before its diversion, the Los Angeles River flowed right here, and that environment was home to a variety of flora and fauna. Artifacts excavated from the original Chinatown in the vicinity of Union Station (and donated by the Chinese Historical Society) are embedded in the bench at one end of the room. Wyatt's 80-foot long mural contains portraits of Native Americans and early settlers as well as present-day Angelenos.

Find the escalator going down a level. Along the wall at the top are twelve vertical "light sticks." To catch the hidden imagery flashing past, you must stand at the far side of the escalators. If you stand too close to the lights, they appear as just a pulsating series of abstract color. Be patient. Bill Bell calls this "A Train."

Take the escalator down and you will be at one end of the MetroRail Red Line platform. Straight ahead is Terry Schoonhoven's tile mural, "Traveler." This is not a new work, but was completed in 1991. All MetroRail stations include a component of public art. This station can also be the jumping off point for a tour of the MetroRail stations to view the abundant art.

Take the escalator back up to East Portal. Exit through the outside door and turn right. In a shady area under two pedestrian bridges is East Los Streetscapers' "La Sombra del Arroyo." Overhead handpainted, glazed ceramic tiles create the illusion of trees with local birds and animals. The trunks are cast bronze. In addition to Streetscaper regulars Wayne Healy and David Botello, Alejandro de la Loza also worked on this commission.

Go up to the next level by elevator, escalator or stairs. Observe the six bus waiting areas, constracted of glass and metal. Designed by Kim Yasuda, Torgen Johnson, Noel Korten and Matthew Vanderborgh, they convey a feeling of a leaf or sail in flight.

Also on this level is the decorative and functional metalwork of East L.A. artist Michael Amescua. Look closely at his railings and grillwork scattered throughout the outdoor area and you will discover cutouts of birds, butterflies, reptiles and plants.

The phallus of a building at the plaza's north end is the new MTA Headquarters. Walk inside the elegant marble ediface and head to the far end of the lobby. Currently only one panel of James Doolin's four-panel murals is installed. It is a grandoise landscape of Los Angeles circa 1870, about the time the railroad first arrived. It will soon be joined by compaion works of our city in 1910, 1960 and "after 2000." Two of them will be on this level and one will be upstairs on the mezzanine.
Proceed up a level to the mezzanine. Walk around to the right and through the glass doors about halfway down the hall. Inside this Boardroom Entrance Area is Patrick Nagatani's "Epoch." The theme of this collage is transportation, both from an individual and a global perspective. It uses NASA photos of the earth as seen from space, more than 500 portcards, and in the center an image from Eadweard Muybridge's pioneering photographic studies, published in 1887, on human locomotion. It was this depiction of Muybridge's nude men in motion that caused a short-lived controversy when the mural was unveiled. It was even covered for a day or two, until others protested such prudishness. Original prints of Muybridge's revolutionary work (it changed forever how artists represent human movement) are viewed daily by visitors to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu.

Walk around to the other side of the mezzanine to view Margaret Nielsen's "L.A. Dialogs," a somewhat humorous look at Los Angeles history through old postcards and souvenirs. It is located outside the cafeteria.

The last segment of public art is outside this building. When you exit, turn left and head downhill toward the corner of Vignes and Cesar Chavez Avenue. This walkway and the collaborative art along it are called Paseo Cesar Chavez. Roberto Gil de Montes, Elsa Flores and Peter Shire, all well-known artists individually, came together for the first time to create this fanciful park-like area of fountains, benches and planters. If it were up to me, I would hire this trio to design and/or re-design parks all over town.

I have to hand it to the MTA. In spite of issues of cost and mismanagement elsewhere in its work, the Gateway Center is an exciting blend of beauty, meaning and functionality.


Urban Art, Inc. is to public sculpture what MCLA is to public murals. Thanks to a grant from Save Outdoor Sculpture!, a joint project of the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property and the Smithsonian Museum, the 25 most significant outdoor sculptures will be determined by a panel of experts, and the 25 will be examined by an art conservator who will prepare condition reports that will provide cost estimates for maintenance or restoration. According to Urban Art there are currently about 550 works of public sculpture in L.A. County.


Over 250 representatives from all sectors of California's non-profit arts community have been invited to a gathering in Los Angeles on June 24th to take action on the Compact for the Arts, a plan for strengthening arts advocacy that emerged from a year-long process involving the California Confederation of the Arts' Board and over 100 individuals and organizations. For more information call CCA's main office at (916) 447-7811.



Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles Journal

Published quarterly, © 1996, 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.