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Our Oldest Mural Is Gone

By Greta Cobar

The owner of the building housing the oldest surviving mural in Venice destroyed the mural without consulting the community or the artist who painted it.

Located on Brooks at Pacific, the 15¢ wash and 5¢ dry artwork has been a part of Venice since 1969. Locals at that time, The Doors band members posed in front of it and used the photo for publicity.

Through the years the bottom of the mural got tagged and was partly painted over.

The law allows building owners to paint over murals as long as they inform the artist 90 days in advance. Victor Henderson, the artist of the mural on Brooks, was not notified. The wall was sand-blasted and primed.

Ralph Ziman, the owner of the building, hired Clinton Bopp, a painter from Santa Monica, to re-create the mural. The two of them had planned to include The Doors band members in the new mural, but the original artist himself, Victor Henderson, showed up and put a stop to that idea.

So should we be happy that we got a brand-new, shiny and more colorful copy of the original mural on the building on Brooks? NO! The forty-four year old artwork was destroyed. Its re-creation is analogous to a copy or a re-creation of a Picasso painting. There are millions of those copies and re-creations, but only one cherished original.

“Henderson’s 1969 mural in Venice was obliterated and it will be recreated. We don’t recreate murals, we restore them,” the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles stated on their Facebook page. Residents, visitors, artists and muralists would have preferred to preserve the original mural and restore it. But they did not have a choice – the owner of the building did.

Artists have the right to sue if their artwork is destroyed without the required 90-days notice. Considered the grand-daddy of the current mural movement, Kent Twitchell did sue the city when his 3-story high Ed Ruscha (1987) mural disappeared in 2006. He got a million dollars. Victor Henderson would have a similar case against the owner of the building on Brooks.

“Their loss is deeply felt not just by the artists, but by Los Angeles,” wrote Alice Emmons in the Rogue Art Research and Writing Journal referring to “discarded, stolen, erased” murals.

A year ago the owner of the building on the north-east corner of Windward and Pacific decided to cover the whole building in white, painting over a beautiful, intact mural on the busiest intersection in Venice. To think that such a decision is remote, and does not affect the community, would be a mis-judgement. Murals are public art, and by definition they belong to the public. When they are taken away, it is the public’s loss. People appreciate art in their communities, and with time they rightfully begin to identify with it. Murals become part of the community.

Nostalgia and public interest in lost murals prompted the art show “Lost L.A. Murals,” which took place in November of 2012 at Cal State Fullerton. The show “explores how that loss (of murals) has impacted the culture and history of art in Los Angeles,” wrote Alice Emmons in the Rogue Art Research and Writing Journal.

Two of the four murals featured in the “Lost L.A. Murals” show once lived in Venice: Terry Schoonnhoven’s St. Charles Painting (1979) and Venice in the Snow (1970) by the Fine Art Squad. The first muralist group in Los Angeles, the Fine Arts Squad was created by Victor Henderson and Terry Schoonnhoven.

Just like Victor Henderson’s Brooks mural was a mirror image of the landscape facing it, so Terry Schoonhoven’s St. Charles Painting on Windward, on the east side of the building now occupied by Danny’s Deli and the Cotel hostel, was a mirror image of  1979 Windward facing Pacific. It was painted over in 2012 by Jonas Never’s A Touch of Venice mural. Terry Schoonhoven’s widow apparently stated that Terry Schoonhoven did not want his murals to be restored, instead accepting their inevitable decay and disappearance.

Venice in the Snow, on the other hand, still exists, but it is obscured by an apartment building that was built inches away from it. Based on a report of snowfall in Venice in 1949, the mural illustrates Ocean Front Walk covered in a blanket of snow. “It captured the imagination of the community with its ironic and realistic style,” wrote Alice Emmons in Rogue Art Research and Writing Journal.

Painting on buildings was a novice concept in the 60s and early 70s, and when the Fine Arts Squad started working on the Venice in the Snow mural, “the local community became enthralled and involved with the project, leaving offerings, setting up couches to create an outdoor living room of sorts,” wrote Liz Sadoff in LA Fine Art Squad. This further goes to show that a community becomes part of the mural much as the mural becomes part of the community.

World-famous artist known as Banksy bestowed one of his artworks on a garage door in Venice in January 2011. A self-titled graffiti artist, Banksy gained world-wide fame and notoriety with the movie “Exit Through the Gift Shop”.

Consequently, the garage door that he tagged was bought by theChive, a Texas-based company that was already using a hand-full of Banksy’s designs on their shirts. And not coincidentally that same company is currently renting, and flying their flags high on, one of the newly-built super-expensive condos on OFW and Thornton.

This is a generic example of a company that has absolutely nothing to do with Venice moving in to smudge off the “coolness” of Venice. When asked why they took public, street art out of its intended location, the company stated that it plans to loan it to museums. The garage door has not been seen since 2011. But how often do we walk through a museum compared to how often we walk down the street? And which one is free?

The owners of the building housing Emily Winters’s JAYA mural on Dell, in the Venice canals, are currently expecting a child and are planning on moving out. “If the building got sold and the new owners wanted to paint over the mural, I could go and take pictures of it. Moving the mural would cost $100,000. But they probably wouldn’t paint over it because they wouldn’t want to antagonize the community,” Winters told the Beachhead.

If Ralph Ziman, the owner of the building on Brooks, would have given the required 90-day notice of intent to destroy the mural, the public could have been mobilized to fight the destruction of the oldest mural in Venice, and one of the oldest in all of Los Angeles. Victor Henderson could have been paid to restore it, with the original, dimmer colors. As it is, Ziman just antagonized the local community and the arts community far and wide. The saddest part is that what he did cannot be undone.

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