East L.A. artist brings “Freeway Kids” out of hibernation*

Photo by Gil Ortiz

Raul Gonzales working on Freeway Kid/Gil Ortiz

Motorists driving on the 101 Freeway through downtown Los Angeles have been watching since late September as the boys and girls featured in L.A. Freeway Kids, a 1984 mural by Glenna Boltuch Avila,  have emerged from underneath layers of gray paint.   Artist and restorer Willie Herron III, who lives in the City Terrace section of East Los Angeles, heads a crew that has been commissioned by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles to restore the artwork.  L.A. Freeway Kids, which is painted on the north side of the 101 near Los Angeles Street, has been “hibernating” under layers of gray paint applied by Caltrans to protect the artwork from vandalism, according to officials.

Herron and his crew have peeled and water-blasted away the protective coating before performing any needed repairs or restoration on each of the kids, which measure between six-feet to eight-feet high, according to Caltrans.   On  Tuesday, the crew turned its attention to restoring the seventh and final kid Gabriel Estrada, the diaper-clad child clutching a basketball.

Estrada, who was barely big enough to hold a basketball back in 1984, is now a 30-year-old commercial real estate broker who lives in Glendale. He and his family were on hand on Tuesday as his childhood portrait came back into the view of freeway commuters.

The restoration of L.A. Freeway Kids, which was one of several freeway murals painted in time for the 1984 Olympics,  is scheduled to be completed by Friday, said Isabel Rojas-Williams, executive director of the conservancy, which has committed itself to maintaining the murals.  Once L.A. Freeway Kids has been restored, fundraising will begin to revive other freeway murals.

“Bringing these iconic murals back will bring back our history, civic pride, tourism and much needed jobs for the younger generation,” said Rojas-Williams.

City Hall looms over the Freeway Kids/Isabel Rojas-Williams

Willie Heron III uncovering the” Basketball Kid”/Vince Antonio

MCLA’s Isabel Rojas-Williams, “The basketball kid,” Gabriel Estrada, and muralist Glenna Avila./José Lopez

Photos of the Freeway Kids restoration project are posted on the mural conservancy’s Facebook page.

* Update:  Work on the next freeway mural to be restored, Going To The Olympics by Frank Romero,  is scheduled to begin in the second week of November, said Rojas-Williams.


  1. On my drives out of town these last few weeks I’ve benn enjoying this reveal, one child by one every few days. SO awesome to have this back and bringing life to the 101 trench.

  2. The one I really want to see again is the Frank Romero mural on the other side of the freeway. The banner version is an forlorn piece of fabric compared to the lively painitng beneath the gray CALTRANS paint over.

  3. Back around the time of that mural, Glenna was head of the Citywide Mural Project. She also was manager of the city’s Los Angeles Photography Center in the Westlake area at that time. She’s also a founding member of the Mural Conservancy of Los angeles.

  4. That kid with the basketball has always given me the creeps!

  5. They scare me:(

  6. How wonderful that they are restoring these once-beautiful murals! I enjoyed them when I was a volunteer for the 1984 Olympics & also was a frequent user of the LA Photography Center back in the 70’s-80’s.

  7. I’m sorry but I can’t stand that mural. When you think of all the magnificent public art throughout history, is this what we want to leave behind for future generations as the very best art Los Angeles has to offer? Because that’s what public art should be, the very best we have. Rome has the Sistine Chapel and we have basketball boy?

    • Rome has thousands of years of history, and L.A. has about 200. It’s a retro piece, and you’re a hater. Stop hating.

      • It’s ridiculous to dismiss me as a hater because I think that art that everyone is literally forced to look at should be the absolute best that Los Angeles artists have to offer, as opposed to the work of the best artists who somehow figured out how to get a city permit to paint on a wall. I think it should be brilliant amazing breathtaking art. Posters of the work should sell by the thousands because people all over the world should think “that mural is so freakin’ amazing that I want a copy of it on my living room wall. Just passing by it twice a day isn’t enough.” Show me one person in the city that wants basketball boy painted on their living room wall. That aren’t any! Not even you – lol. So why is it painted (apparently forever) on “our” living room wall?

    • so i guess we should cover up all the art you don’t like? that’s been done before. have a look at the Siqueiros mural, maybe you think it should remain covered too?

      • I actually like the Siqueiros mural! But I do think most murals in Los Angeles are bad art, and to give them some kind of sacred, protected status simply because they happened to be painted on a wall instead of a canvas is completely absurd. No other artist gets that kind of blanket protection regardless of the quality of the work.

        • oh good, then Siqueiros gets to stay? happy to hear it. do you have the poster in your house?

          • Levi – why the attitude? Nothing in my comments indicated that I think I should be the ultimate judge of what’s good. I’m just one person with one opinion, and my opinion is that most murals in this city are bad art, and that they should not be automatically awarded any kind of protected status just because they are murals. To give an analogy, imagine if you couldn’t rebuild your house because that would violate the architect’s rights. We do protect some buildings, but there is a process to differentiate the important structures from the not important structures. Why should it be any different with a mural?

          • no critics please!

            The problem with arguing with anonymous people online, is that there is a 0% chance that we are going to get them to see the light. By my reasoning, stella and the 3 other people in L.A. who have a problem with L.A. Freeway kids have a right to their minority opinion, and can drive by it and ignore it, or hurt their own health with their rising blood pressure! Meanwhile the thousands, perhaps millions of Angelenos who love the mural and are thrilled to have it back, can drive by it and get a warm feeling in our hearts!

    • I think you’re being ridiculous. This is a mural that is emblematic of the time that it was created, not some museum piece. You need to take an art history class. We aren’t Rome, we’re LA, and the artwork around the city is reflective of urban living among diverse groups of people. And if you judge art by how much money it makes, than I feel very bad for you.

  8. Kids in sports sounds good to me rather than kids in gangs or drug addicts.It’s easy if u don’t like look away ,keep ur eyes on the road. Taggers get mad when their art or tag gets topped or sprayed over, they should look at these murals the same hard work for someone to just ruin it…I agree with Will good to see them back..

  9. no critics please!

    Kids, cars, outer space fantasies, abstractions, palm trees, musicians…to me, way better to look at than a grey wall. The art of the mural is one a social nature, that pertains to the culture and society of its time. A mural should be relatable to the vast majority of society, and leave behind, as its legacy, a creative record of its maker’s view of his or her world. Its easy to criticize a work of art but I don’t see any great public works of art in L.A. by stella.

    • by your reasoning, no one could ever criticize a song or a movie unless they had created a better one themselves?

      • No one wants to hear your damn opinion is what everyone is trying to say Stella.

        • good to know you are open to hearing all opinions as long as they are yours

          • Stella, I understand your points exactly. It is difficult to have a logical discussion with people who have been in state of deprivation for so long. Grasping as they might, they just want something other then a gray wall. The art suffers great in creativity and is not very appropriate for the space, but (maybe?) better than the gray.

      • S, music/songs & movies, in most cases r intended 4 profit?…Exterior Murals r FREE to the public, U can take it or leave it & in Ur case, LEAVE IT! . .We all dont have to agree with a Europen notion of what good art is.

  10. Great work! Three cheers to all those involved.

  11. Nice to have them back!

  12. I agree with Stella — I’ve always hated that little kid with the ball! Doesn’t he look like he has a load of stinky in that diaper? But kudos I guess on preserving public art… dirty diapers and all.

  13. What happened to the ‘Grandma’ with the shawl? That was so beautiful!

    • Sandy, I loved that one as well… grew up with it. It was titled “Old Woman of the Freeway” by muralist Kent Twitchell, who painted it in 1974. It was painted over in the mid ’80s.


    SANDY: You beat me to it. I was just about to ask what happened to Grandma with the shawl. Liked her when I was younger; love to have her back now that I “be one.”

  15. Not being a cynic, but you all really think these kids won’t be covered with graff in a week?

  16. Bernie’s heading where I am with this….all of this effort in restoration is extremely welcomed along a bleak gray stretch of freeway; however, have they added the clearcoat layers where future graffiti can be simply washed right off? Anything less than adding a protective layer is a waste of everyone’s resources, painter and public alike.

    • C, all your conserns mentioned above were discussed and planned out b4 the Frwy Mural Restorations began last year!…these murals proir had a graffiti protective coating applied in 1984 & 2005…MCLA now has a preservation program with a graffit abatement 24 hr response..thank U…Mural Graffiti Abatement Technicians

  17. Yeah!! More stories about Real Eastsiders!!

  18. The “Freeway Kids” should be permanently retired and new artists should have an opportunity to show new works….maybe Retna/The Mac or perhaps a colloboration with Defer/Gajin Fujita…something fresh, powerful and inspiring.

    • Simmer down RM,..there r plenty of walls in EL Lay, and the artist u think should replace artist that painted on the streets b4 retna, mac, defer & gFu were even born, is disrespectful!!…this kind of thinking holds the new artist back…after all, the new works r in this city and adding to our cultural heritage without having 2 erase the world class works of art that have been here over 40 years….Dont Argue Over The Walls That Have Existing Artworks…Cuz it sounds like U want David Alfaro Sequeiros’ mural, ” Tropical America” painted over too

      • HUH?…My intention was never to be disrespectful in any sense. Many local Angelenos who appreciate good public art would agree that the murals in that particular part of the 101 are aestheticaly expired, uninspiring and far from “world class” status. Your absurd notion “Cuz it sounds like U want David Alfaro Sequeiros’ mural, ” Tropical America” painted over too???” is ridiculous…there is a significant difference between A.D. Siqueiros’ “Tropical America” and Glenna Avila’s “L.A. Freeway Kids”….your comment is extremely irrelevant and thoughtless.

  19. The first Kent Twitchell mural restored was immediately covered by graffiti right after but then cleaned a day or two later. Some form of clear coat or protection was definitely applied.

    Kind of agree with Stella but it’s also sort of cool to see anything created in 1980’s LA that’s still around. Seems like a lot of people want to forget that decade happened!

  20. Anyone who was around for the Olympics in ’84 certainly remembers it was a proud two weeks for Los Angeles!

  21. Ugly! Call me what you will. I think money should go only to good art!

  22. There aren’t enough murals of children and pharmaceuticals in the world to make anyone like being on the 101 in its war-path placement that rips Chinatown apart from the civic core. I, for one, can’t wait for the great cockroach vandals of LA’s graf world to get up on this wall.

  23. It only bothers me that all this laudable effort will be up against the graffiti vandals. And even if Caltrans, or whomever, quickly removes the tagging, the punks know their spraypaint scrawls will be up for even a few hours and seen by thousands, and will therefore have served its purpose. And they’ll continue to get their cheap thrills.

  24. god, this was awful when it first went up, and looks worse now. Some art is not meant to last. This may mark a low point in LA mural history. Let’s move FORWARD.

  25. Beautiful art! This sort of reminds me of a book I finished reading titled, “The Art Dockuments” by Carlton Davis, which is about The Art Dock, LA’s street art, or drive-by art gallery back in the 80’s.


  26. LA Needs New Public Art

    The Freeway Kids definitely brings back 80s memories for me. Personally I never liked this particular mural but I do miss the many murals our city used to be blessed with in general. I would have to agree with Stella and RM– Los Angeles OWES it to all of us to allow other established and emerging artists to create new and inspiring works instead of bringing back outdated mediocre 80s portraits. I don’t think there is anything world class about this mural that has clearly had its time. We’re not going to resurrect Siqueiros to do any jobs for us either, but to even mention his art in the same breath as Basketball Boy mural is ludicrous! There are plenty of respectable working artists in Los Angeles who could be commissioned to enliven our city walls with new murals rather than rehash these old pieces. Oh well, I guess it’s the sign of our times in El Lay.

    -LA Native and Public Art Lover.

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