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Signature Broadway mural to be removed, relocated to make way for restoration

By Emily Chu
Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2012, at 07:57AM
Courtesy of SPARC/ Johanna Poethig

"Calle de la Eternidad" will be removed and relocated to the Southern wall.

A signature Downtown mural is being digitally scanned, documented and then taken down piece by piece in order to make way for restoration of the Broadway building it's painted on.

The piece, “Calle de la Eternidad,” features a pair of golden hands reaching skyward on a vibrant red background. As of Tuesday night, the mural will be removed from the street-facing wall on the structure located near 4th and Broadway.

But a compromise between the developer and preservationists -- aided by new technology -- means the mural is simply being relocated to another wall, not permanently removed.

Artist and muralist Johanna Poethig painted “Calle" in 1993 in homage to Broadway’s history as a significant area of Latino commerce and culture in Los Angeles.

Today, the building that Poethig hand-painted is owned by David L. Gray, an architect and developer. The 1911 building originally had windows on every floor, but when the department store Graysons moved in during the 1950s, the windows from the second floor up were plastered over to create a solid façade that featured the store’s name.

It was this façade that Poethig painted, and when Gray decided to begin restoring the building, it became clear that the mural would have to be moved or destroyed.

Gray approached the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) about a year ago in the hopes of finding a solution. SPARC helped produce "Calle," according to a press release, and the organization's founder and artistic director, Judy Baca, said she has a soft-spot for Downtown in general.

As a child, she would ride the tram to watch movies at the Million Dollar Theater. Today, the murals on Broadway are “definitive to the core of Los Angeles,” she said. Baca went on to say Calle de la Eternidad has “the quality of reaching for the sky and for dreams… it's become synonymous with Broadway.”

Still, she recognizes the conflict between restoring the building and saving the mural.

“You can see exactly why the conservationists want to bring back these types of buildings," she said. "That’s something I support as well.”

They called in Councilmember José Huizar and his Bringing Back Broadway initiative to help settle on a compromise.

“This effort highlights two things I am extremely passionate about – the historic preservation of our iconic buildings and our beautiful murals,” Huizar said in a press release last Friday.

They compromised to digitally preserve the mural before the façade is taken down, and move the mural to the southern-facing wall of the building.

The preservation process is intensive. It begins with SPARC taking 155 photographs that will be digitally stitched together to form a single reproduced image of the mural. Poethig will then touch up the painting digitally and then it will be printed out onto a canvas and additionally detailed by hand.

Finally, the canvas will be attached to the wall using a Renaissance-era method called miraflage.

The solution isn’t ideal, but it’s the best possible compromise in the face of murals being destroyed without consideration, Baca said. SPARC is saving the hunks of concrete to auction off for fundraising.

Baca is confident that the mural will be back in its original position at the front of the building eventually.

But until, or if, that happens, the view of “Calle de la Eternidad” for Downtown residents will have shifted. After the mural is moved, it will be seen by those walking or driving up Broadway toward City Hall.

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