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East Los Angeles Mural's 'Struggle' is Over

The East Los Angeles mural on the former First Street Store, "The Story of Our Struggle," will be saved from demolition. Its a win-win for all, says Irma Beserra Núñez, who led the advocacy group seeking to save the 1972 designed by artist Johnny D. González, a.k.a. Don Juan.

The night before a scheduled hearing at the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission, advocates for the tile mural and the developers who earmarked the site for a charter high school -- The Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, and Pacific Charter School Development -- came to an agreement to save the mural as an intact piece.

With the mural saved, the public hearing on Tuesday, October 23 was cancelled.

González has already claimed a name for the new public space -- Plaza La Primera -- and will be integrated on site to expand the murals narrative about the neighborhood.

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When the mural was first threatened by demolition, the developers offered to dismantle and piece it together at different locations in the new structure. But supporters felt that that would compromise the works, and an important historic building would be lost in the process as well. This prompted Núñez and González to form "The Coalition to Save The First Street Store Building" as a way to preserve the site, thus preserving the mural.

Other early plans included setting back the mural ten feet from the street and have a public space designed around the relocated set of murals, fully intact with the wall and its mission style arches.

The Coalition, in seeking support from conservancy institutions, found allegiance with the L.A.'s Jewish community, who supports saving the mural intact as it stands, facing the street. The immediate neighborhood around the First Street Store's early days in the 1920s was not just Mexican and Jewish, but Russian, Greek, Italian, Chinese and Japanese, and the allegiance represents a cooperation between the historic Jewish business community and the growing Mexican-American demographic.

The 1973 mural was commissioned by the First Street Store owner, the late Bob Kemp, as a way to bring people together and turn the street corner into a consumer and cultural destination. Depicting the story of Mexican-American history, the tiled mural was designed during the days of Chicano civil rights shaping its own beginnings. It has sat quietly in this strip of East Los Angeles, getting its share of mural archaeologists making pilgrimages to the site.

Now that there is funding in place along with approved development plans, and a solution was found by all parties, the mural did what it was designed to do: it reminded people that the area add a distinct cultural value to Los Angeles.


Top: Johnny D. González in front of "Story of Our Struggle" | Photo by Ed Fuentes.

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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