Do you ever wish there were more legal walls?

July 21, 2013 at 4:51 am


“There are so many different languages, religions, and cultures in L.A. and they are all expressed in public art.”  Isabel Rojas-Williams, Exec Director, Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, MCLA.

On Neighborhood Love Radio Episode 9 Isabel Rojas-Williams spoke about the ongoing issues, proposed ordinances and upcoming votes that would affect the laws around public art in Los Angeles.  The subject intrigued me. 

I have spent the majority of my life living in Los Angeles and while I have grown to have a great fondness for LA; I have often criticized it for being a vast sprawl of concrete, uninspired and cheap building structures and an excellent example of poor city planning. That being said, one thing I can imagine, that could potentially change the look of this city, in a positive way would be to allow more public art to cover its infinite surfaces.

I was also shocked to learn that Los Angeles was once considered the Mural Capital of the World. Now maybe it’s because I am sympathetic to the plight of the graffiti artist and their inability to find legal walls, which would give them a constructive avenue to practice their craft.  But I never considered LA to be overtly “public art” friendly.  I had to know, how did Los Angeles come to be known as the “Mural Capitol of the World”?  And also, why have we lost that distinction to cities such as Philadelphia and Portland?

The best argument I heard with respect to the importance of conserving murals and conserving the right to allow public art had to do with how it represents those always underrepresented in historical accounts of our city.  Below are some examples of what I learned about LA and its historical murals.

“America Tropical” by David Alfaro Siqueiro; original work in 1932

America Tropical

David Alfaro Siqueiros painted this mural next door to where his grandparents played guitar at La Golondrina Café on Olvera Street.  He is credited with experimenting with spray can painting techniques, which would influence graffiti artists in the future.

According to an article written by Mandolo DelBarco, “Siqueiros was commissioned to paint ‘America Tropical’; the image represents Indians, Creoles and African-Americans who were persecuted and harassed by their respective governments. Mexican Americans and Immigrants were being rounded up and deported…the mural was a response to all of that, it was a subversive act constructed right across the street from City Hall and within a staged quaint folkloric Mexico”

The mural was censored and whitewashed shortly after its reveal.  After 80 years of activist’s efforts, the help of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Getty Conservation Institute, the mural was restored in 2012.

The 1960’s and 1970’s and the

The 60s and 70s inspired murals across Los Angeles, including some that represent the Chicano Movement. Elliott Pickney is an artist who has contributed over two dozen murals since the 1970 in the Los Angeles Area, mostly in South Central LA but range as far as the areas of Long Beach to Pacoima.



“Mafundi”;  1972;

Location:  1827 E. 103rd St South Central LA



Five Pillars of Progress


“The Five Pillars of Progress”; 1979-1984;

Location:  Santa Fe Ave. at Artesia Blvd. (under 91 Frwy) ComptonCommemoration_1977

“Commemoration” 1977

Location:  FHP Compton Medical Center: 818 W. Alondra Blvd.  South Central LA

All that you can Be_Pickney

“All That You Can Be”; 1990;

Location:  8601 South Broadway, South Central LA

“Division of the Barrios” The Great Wall of Los Angeles 1983 by Judith F. Baca; 1983

Division of the BariosV3

This mural is probably my favorite. I went to high school at Grant and walked by “The Great Wall of Los Angeles”( the largest mural in the world at 2,754 feet), every day and never gave it much appreciation.  I never knew that when Dodger Stadium was built in the 1950’s, many residents of the Chavez Ravine area were persuaded to sell their homes and promised new low cost housing which was never built. Here, freeways divide East Los Angeles which destroyed homes and separated families, startled chickens communicate the chaos of the situation.[1]

The Estrada Courts housing complex has dozens of murals throughout its interior.  Some have been restored, but many are in need of restoration. Here, I noticed that certain murals seem to be vandalized more than others, which suggests to me that the public has more respect for them.  For example, the mural immortalizing Daniel Martin has no placas and many of the pre-Columbian murals are covered in them. [2]

I always thought that involving the youth in mural creation or restoration would do a lot, in the long run, to reduce the amount of destructive graffiti, which in turn could do a lot to reduce the negative attitude the public holds for graffiti art.  The Social and Public Art Resource Center, SPARC also argues this point. “Those currently tagging for the most part are very different from those who do spray can murals and probably are younger.  SPARC proposes a program that works directly with this new generation of taggers, by producing and preserving murals, we can begin to re-dedicate, re-educate and re-energize the LA mural movement.”[3]

Estrada Courts


The Estrada Courts Housing Complex







“We Are Not a Minority”, El Congreso de Artistas Cosmicos de las Americas de San Diego (Mario Torero, Rocky, El Lion, Zade), 1978 (repainted in 1996).





“In Memory of a Home Boy” by Daniel Martin. 1973.

Location: 3328 Hunter St. Mural #21



Get Involved

The MCLA and SPARC offer programs for community service and community restoration.   I’m certain they could benefit from the skills of some of the graff artists that may be reading this article. Here are also two links you can refer to if you want to volunteer internship or learn about events and news.



Do you ever wish more legal walls were available? For the past two years these organizations have been working towards a new mural ordinance that will allow for new murals to be painted on private property in the city of Los Angeles. We are nearing the final City Council vote. In order for the ordinance to pass, eight council members must vote in favor of it. Email Us and tell us which city you live in.  We can send you an email template to forward to the council member for your district.  Subscribe using our sidebar and we will keep you informed about the upcoming vote and how you can help.



[1] Los Angeles Painted City, Naomi Garcia

[2] “Historical Mural is Restored at Estrada Courts Public Housing” April 3, 2012.The Housing Authority of Los Angeles

[3] “What’s Happened to the mural of Los Angeles” Judith Baca, Debra J.T. Padilla. SPARC Website

[4]  “Arguments over L.A.’s mural ban paint different pictures.” LA Times, June 25, 2013; Reed Johnson,0,2265095.story

[5] Chiano Mural Tour

[6] ‘America Tropical’ transformed once more.” Christopher Knight. October 8, 2012 LA Times.