A group of artists and officials with a charter school have reached an agreement to preserve the tiled murals above the former First Street Store in East Los Angeles. Plans to build a new middle and high school on the site of the now vacant store had raised concern about the fate of “A Story of Our Struggle,” a nearly forty-year-old tile artwork composed of multiple panels spread across the facade of the nearly block-long building. Artists and mural advocates had opposed a plan by the developer of the school to demolish the building and relocate the murals, considered among the most prominent examples of Chicano mural art in East Los Angeles, to another location on the site. Instead, as part of an agreement announced this week, the murals will continue to loom over First Street as part of a free-standing structure.
While the final details have yet to be worked out, one of the original mural artists, Johnny D. González, has come up with a “rough concept sketch” (pictured above) of the free-standing wall, which he has called Plaza La Primera.
Catherine Suitor, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, said the plan for now is to begin construction first on a 450-seat middle school at the back of the property. In the second phase, a new, 650-seat high school would be built closer to First Street and behind the free-standing wall and mural.
“Our intention was always to preserve the murals,” said Suitor, whose group will operate schools focused on media, art and digital technology. “It’s a beautiful, perfect match. We could not be more pleased.”
“A Story of Our Struggle,” which depicts a story of suffering, revolution and finally enlightenment, is the work of artists Johnny Gonzalez, Robert Arenivar and David Botello. Gonzalez drew up the first design in the early 1970s as the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War was taking place. Gonzalez presented the design to Bob Kemp, the former owner of the First Street Store at First Street and Townsend Avenue. Kemp said he loved the idea but was afraid of the doing anything amid a time of social unrest and the death of journalist Rubén Salazar, who was shot and killed in 1970 after a sheriff’s deputy fired a tear canister into an East L.A. bar.
The mural panels were installed in 1974, half a century after the First Street Store opened. The family-owned store closed at the end of 2007 and has been empty ever since.
- Plans to build new school raise concerns over the fate of an East L.A. mural and First Street landmark. The Eastsider