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Artists raise concerns about completion of East L.A. mural project

Murals at former First Street Store in East Los Angeles nearly completed 8-12-2016 11-13-16 AM

By ANA FACIO-KRAJCER

EAST LOS ANGELES — It’s been three years since a charter school planning to replace the former First Street Store with a new campus agreed to preserve the tiled mural that adorned the front of the former department store. The new school recently welcomed its first students and the installation of the mural, created during the peak of the Chicano art movement in the 1970s, is nearly complete. But some artists and merchants are concerned about the school’s commitment to finish one final element: an Aztec-themed plaza.

“We’re not asking them to do a miracle, we’re only asking them to finish the design,” said shop owner Javier Monsivais.

The 19 panels that make up the The Story Of Our Struggle depicts the history of Mexico. The mural, which remains covered with a temporary whitewash-like film, was created more than 40 years ago by Johnny D. González, Robert Arenivar and David Botello as part of an initiative to revitalize the First Street corridor and attract tourists.

The fate of the mural, however, became uncertain after The First Street Store, a fixture in East L.A for more than 80 years, closed its doors in 2007. The nearly block-long building on First Street between Rowan and Townsend avenues remained vacant for several years later until the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools purchased property to build a new middle and high school campus.

Unfinished fountain

Unfinished fountain

In 2013, the artists reached a formal agreement with Alliance to preserve the murals and have them to continue to overlook First Street. In addition to keeping and restoring the artwork, the school also agreed to a new plaza — basically a widened sidewalk — under the mural with an Aztec motif, pyramid-shaped fountain and colored paving stones.

But the plaza, which is intended to serve as a gathering space for students as well as visitors, is not finished. Instead of a plaza paved with earth-toned stones and a flowing fountain, there’s just a big swath of concrete pavement and an unfinished fountain.

Irma Beserra Núñez, co-founder of the Coalition To Save The First Street Store Mural Wall, said merchants and residents are “confused and extremely disappointed” that the plaza designed by Gonzalez remains unfinished without explanation.

“It looks neglected,” said Monsivais, owner of Paramount Boots, of the cement fountain and courtyard across from his shop. “The murals are fine but (the charter school) should complete the sidewalk’s design.”

Catherine Suitor, spokeswoman for Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, said that any construction project is subject to delays.  But she did not say what caused the plaza delays and when the project will be completed.

“We are absolutely committed to doing what we said we would do with the artist and the agreement that we had with them,” Suitor said. “… More importantly, we’re super proud to be able to honor the artwork as part of the school.”

Murals at former First Street Store in East Los Angeles nearly completed 8-12-2016 11-08-01 AM

Installation of the murals is nearly completed

Former First Street Store and murals pictured in 2008

Ana Facio-Krajcer has covered nearly every beat – including crime, city hall, ethnic communities, and education – as a reporter at several California newspapers and has contributed reporting on major national stories as a freelance reporter for the New York Times.

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