Murals Appear in Chicano Park
........In the early 1960s, Torres and fellow artist Victor Ochoa were both enrolled at San Diego State in the studio arts program. During this period, Torres met Jose Montoya, a student of commercial art at San Diego City College. Montoya had received a scholarship to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland where he settled, eventually re-locating in Sacramento where he established the Royal Chicano Air Force. Torres had been encouraged by Montoya to apply to the school in Oakland. Upon his acceptance, Torres moved to Oakland where he graduated from the College of Arts and Crafts and became an art instructor. After six years in Oakland, Torres returned to San Diego, spending eight months in the county hospital with tuberculosis
........After his release from the hospital, Torres returned to Barrio Logan, and witnessed the massive concrete bridge pylons piercing the heart of his community. His home had been destroyed by the construction. His initial reaction to the residential displacement was rage:
........Let' me ask you something How would you feel? Nobody came and said 'we want to build this huge bridge on top of you. We want to annihilate you once and for all with something so big your humanity will just wither up and die.ś Residents despised the intrusion of the bridge pylons while accepting their presence with resignation. Torres' artistic sensibility eventually overtook that of indignant citizen, as he began to observe the bridge in a different light, as an art object in itself providing concrete canvases. He began to sketch the "volumetric relationships created by the pylons and the understructureś and designs that one day might cover their surfaces. The Chicano Park Monumental Public Mural Program was conceived by Torres in 1969. He was well aware of the need for the involvement of city and state officials in obtaining formal consent for his project. Meetings were conducted with Assemblyman Peter Chacon and H. B. Thysell, manager of the Coronado Bay Bridge, in attendance. Torres expressed his desires "that if we as artists were allowed the freedom of creative expression, and the independence needed to develop this unique concept, we would work as equal partners in this artistic scheme by collaborating and keeping open lines of communication.ś Negotiations continued for many years. Officials were weary of so daring a concept as public murals. forgetting or being simply unaware of the Mexican inspired WPA mural program, in the United States during the depression years. The first documented mural of the contemporary mural movement was the Wall of Respect. painted by Black artists in 1967 in Chicago. The first documented
Chicano murals were the two exterior panels of El Teatro Campesino in Del Rey, California.
........The National Chicano Youth Conference had been convened in Denver in 1969 and 1970, with Chicano artists from San Diego attending. El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan became the manifesto for the conferences. with specific instructions relating to Chicano artists. The second conference held a workshop for artists which clarified their relationship to the National Chicano Movement: —Raza art must reflect our heart and . . . our ancient heart has its own symbols, which are rich, colorful and inexhaustible--therefore sufficient.ś
........In 1971, Torres traveled to Mexico City to attend the inaugural ceremonies for the Siqueiros Polyforum, a project seven years in the making (Fig. 15). David Alfaro Siqueiros was, at that time, the last surviving member of Los Tres Grandes, which had included Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, the three great ones of the Mexican Mural Movement of the 1920s and 1930s. The Polyforum was designed as a cultural center primarily for tourists, and secondarily for citizens of Mexico. The building housed Siqueiros' largest and last mural, The March of Humanity covering 50,000 square feet.
........The Polyforum is elliptical in shape, measuring 150' x 100' x 45' (Fig. 16). The twelve exterior panels were made of asbestos cement and were covered with polychromed murals of relief sculpture. Torres was impressed with the similarities between the Siqueiros Polyforum and the Coronado Bay Bridge
regarding form and content. monumental concrete architecture and mural painting. Would the combination be possible in San Diego?
........Chicano artists wanted to paint murals in Chicano Park. They wanted to express their identity as Indian/Spanish/European/American. The second phase of their struggle had begun. Absorbing the lessons learned from the park takeover, these artists organized their ideas and themselves, negotiated with public officials. In 1973, bright colors began to replace the lifeless gray concrete surfaces in Barrio Logan.
........Four years after the conception of the Chicano Park Monumental Public Mural Program artists were prepared to begin their work. Perrnission had been obtained from the San Diego Coronado Bridge Authority to prepare and paint the surfaces of the freeway abutments and pylons. Mr. Thysell remembered a meeting with the artists, where he was asked. "If we do it [paint on your bridge pylons],. how should we do it?ś Mr. Thysell then began to inquire among his associates concerning procedures for surface preparation and painting, as he knew the artists were going to paint, with or without his assistance. In his meetings with Torres, Mr. Thyself expressed his sincere enthusiasm for the mural project. His only request was for the artists not to drill into the concrete surface of the pylons. as drilling would break the clear sealer, allowing moisture to attack the iron support beams and wires. Moisture would have created a problem with rusting, thus endangering the structural system of the bridge. The concrete was cleaned with wire brushes and sandblasting. Muriatic acid was then applied to the
surface to kill bacteria, followed by a white primer. These techniques had been suggested to the artists by Proline Paints, a local business in San Diego. Scaffolding and hard hats had been donated by National Steel and Shipbuilding Company and San Diego Gas and Electric. The murals upon the freeway abutments on Logan Avenue were painted by Los Toltecas en Aztlan and approximately three hundred residents in the barrio. Torres recounts the first day:
........The paints were all laid out. And there's this gigantic wall there, and all of U.S. just looking at this wall. So we pour out the paint, took some rollers, and attacked the wall with the rollers. We put color everywhere. There was at least two or three hundred people there, that all of a sudden were all over the walls. It was done spontaneously. We exploded on the walls. Any sense of control had been lost with the large number of participants involved. At this early stage of the mural program, community involvement was important in obliterating the grayness from their park. Guillermo Aranda recalled the disappointment of his friend. Jose Gomez, who felt the mural concept had been ruined by the involvement of so many non-artists. Aranda replied,śWe havenļt finished yet.ś After the community had satisfied their need through paint, the core artistic group returned throughout the year to complete the murals, attempting to unify the varied imagery of Mexican history. The first phase of the mural program illustrated the dominance of Chicano nationalism and spontaneity in the imagery portrayed, "possessing the park, marking it with the placa or logo, of the community.ś The artists involved with
this phase were members of Las Toltecas and El Congresso de Artistas Chicanos en Aztlan.
........The second mural phase was characterized by the presence of Chicano artists from Sacramento and Los Angeles painting murals at the invitation of the San Diego artists. The first group of murals were painted for Chicano Park Day in 1974, and the second group was painted by members of the Royal Chicano Air Force in the spring of 1975.
........The third mural phase evolved from community concern over the growing number of junkyards within the barrio. Through effective organization, zoning laws were changed to remove these visual and audio pollutants. In celebration of a resurgence of community pride, Chicano artists began painting again, in 1977. To ensure the educational content of the murals, designs were approved by the Chicano Park Steering Committee. Pre-Colombian. colonial, modern and contemporary Mexican imagery were presented. A second characteristic of the third mural phase was the invitation of non-Chicano artists to paint in the park.
........By 1980 large-scale, organized painting appeared to have lost its momentum. Individual artists would return to the park to repair murals vandalized by graffiti or paint bombs, or damaged by environmental elements. The murals appeared to have been forgotten by the barrio, and they were relatively unacknowledged by the citizens of San Diego. An important stop in revitalizing the barrio occurred in 1980, when Chicano Park was designated San Diego's Historical Site #143. Mike Pearlman and Pat Barley, two researchers for
the Historical Site Board. had conducted a —CETA funded, Barrio Logan, western Southeast San Diego historical survey,ś' the results of which were presented to the City of San Diego Historical Site Board. An historical site was defined as
any site . . . of historical significance due to its association with . . . noted past events . . . or a significant representation of an era in the development of the City. Chicano Park is historically significant for the controversy created by its development and because it is a significant representation of an era in the development of the City. The "era" being a rebirth of Latino pride in Mexican culture and a newfound sense of political consciousness on the part of local Mexican-Americans as exemplified by the actions undertaken by the community in demanding the creation of the Park. Chicano Park had been developed through social and cultural forces, evolving into a regional landmark within the development of San Diego. The historical report acknowledged the national and international reputation of the Chicano Park Murals. Images of the murals had appeared in Rheims three years previously, and in Caen in 1980. An article on Mexican Americans appeared in the June 1980 issue of National Geographic, illustrating with a double-page photograph Coutlique, the Earth Goddess, the Chicano Pinto Union Mural, and the Sueno Serpiente. The historical report acknowledged the high artistic value of the murals, their significance of workmanship and their association with the development within Barrio Logan. In attendance for discussion at the Historical Site Board meeting were Ron Buckley, Secretary to the Historical Site Board, Richard Bundy, Pat Schaelchlin, Barney Tompson, Ron Pekarek, Chairman Reeves. Charlene Valencia from the Chicano Park Steering Committee, Carlos Castaneda, and Angeles Liera. Participants favored the designation of Chicano Park as an historical site, with
various observations brought forward. Mr. Pekarek claimed "that the combination of bridge architecture and mural art is too valuable to pass up.ś Chairman Reeves asked if the Site Board should become involved with the approval process of the murals. Ms. Valencia explained to the board the Chicano Park Steering Committeeļs requirements that murals be educational in their subject matter. Background information was presented for the development of the park; and after lengthy discussion, with a vote of nine in favor and zero opposed, Chicano Park became Historical Site #143 in San Diego.
........An interesting phenomenon had been occurring in reference to the acceptance/acknowledgment of the Chicano Park Murals. The images were known internationally, and ignored by San Diego, historical site notwithstanding. An exhibit of the murals had been displayed in Mexico City in 1983; and a tour guide from West Germany stressed the three most important sites in California, "The Mud Flats in San Francisco, Watts Towers in Los Angeles, and Chicano Park in San Diego." Yet the Chicano Park Murals were not supported by San Diego's tourist industry. A representative of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Al Reese. referred to Chicano Park as a passive park, simply an open space where people can relax for a few hours. He explained that tourists are not interested in visiting passive parks, but would rather visit sites such as Balboa Park because of the museums. His organization is interested in attracting tourists who stay overnight, paying for hotels. motels, and restaurants. Mr. Reese explained, "One