The theaters of Broadway made downtown a cultural gem 20 years after the start of the 20th Century. Twenty years before the end of the century, when the street was becoming a retail center for Latino shoppers, murals were telling their stories and used Broadway as a stage.
Those now vintage murals on Broadway are among the many Los Angeles works being lost. The fade-out comes at a time when Bringing Back Broadway gathers traction with new businesses opening along the boulevard, and the Downtown Los Angeles streetcar project rumbles through the late stages of route decisions and environmental reviews.
One of those murals is "Calle de la Eternidad," known for its warm gold arms stretching toward the sky.
The building that is home to the 1993 mural is now owned by David Gray, who plans to restore the facade and windows on the street facing wall, adding to his culturally aware design and development that includes Judson Lofts, Orpheum Lofts, and Tomahawk Building in his firm's downtown portfolio.
Gray's initial outreach to the artist developed into a meeting in late March, 2012, with the office of District 14 Councilmember, Jose Huizar, project leaders with his initiative Bringing Back Broadway, the Office of Historic Resources, and the Social Public Art and Resource Center, who led "Calle de la Eternidad" to its completion through their "Neighborhood Pride: Great Walls Unlimited Program."
The Neighborhood Pride program created a bulk of the murals from 1988 to 2003 that gave Los Angeles its public art reputation. Since then SPARC has used resources to not just produce works, but finding new ways to restore previous works.
SPARC co-founder Judy Baca, perhaps best known for The Great Wall of Los Angeles, said vintage murals could benefit from their mural rescue program that she nicknames "the SPARC ambulance."
After the meeting at City Hall, the SPARC public art paramedic team made a quick house call to "Calle de la Eternidad." The mural was scanned and now in digital storage, its colors waiting to be enhanced by hand, said Baca. To secure the images, Broadway was closed off so SPARC could get the best vantage point of the mural from a lift.
"It's important to save," said Baca. "It's magnificent statement on Broadway."
"The whole context of being on Broadway in a very Latino neighborhood is so important to me. I started to look for symbols and artifacts from pre-Columbian America," wrote Johanna Poethig about her mural after completion. "The arms that are reaching to the sky are based on Peruvian gold work. The Aztec calendar contains text by Octavio Paz about time and place . . . In the middle of a commercial L.A. landscape you have something that is talking about connecting us culturally and historically to our past and present."
It's also a reminder of what this commercial strip was before it was renamed Broadway to attract East Coast investors and migration. Broadway itself was Calle de la Eternidad -- and Eternity Street -- during the city's early days when streets used names in both Spanish and English. The street's name came from its role as the road funeral processions would use on the way to Calvary Cemetery, that used to be at the end of what is now N. Broadway.
If all goes to the plan discussed at the meeting, and funding is secured, Calle de la Eternidad will be reinstalled on the south facing wall of 351 S. Broadway, keeping it viewable to northbound traffic.
During restoration, SPARC will keep the integrity of the mural by reproducing colors on a computer with advanced tablet software, then produced onto canvas where more color and details are enhanced by hand.
Then by using miraflage, a painting technique traced back to the renaissance, the canvas is adhered to a site-specific wall, giving the work an appearance of being directly painted onto the surface, according to Baca.
"It's forty years of art movement experience and historical technique advancing technologies," she said. "There is no dot or pixelation. Like our Kennedy murals, it will be in the highest resolution possible."
"Seeing Through Others Eyes" and " Tiny Ripples of Hope" were installed at RFK Community Schools Library in 2010 using the technique of installing canvas panels. That practical application would help Calle de la Eternidad, making it the first to use the mix of technology and historic technique to save, relocate, and thus saving a mural, assures Baca.
While SPARC had the lift, they went around the corner to take a look at the damage on "Pope Of Broadway." They were able to make steps to save the face of the mural's subject, Anthony Quinn, which was peeling away from the wall. The damage on the Pope Of Broadway can be restored to 80% of its original richness. Calle de la Eternidad can be restored to 100% of its original color said Baca. "We are not looking at an impossible job.
"It's important on a number of levels," adds Baca. "Johanna is the only woman artist with a work on Broadway."
And as for the piece, it will lose in scale on a new wall. Yet, the image will still be a powerful symbol. Instead of reaching out from under the skyscrapers -- that from a distance looks like cultural despair -- the background will be the hills and the arms point toward what was the final resting place for people of the city; a clear interpretation of the artist's intent to make a connection to a cultural and historical past.
Above: Calle de la Eternidad on Broadway against the skyscrapers of Bunker Hill April 2012 I Photo by Helen Ly/viewfromaloft for KCET. Below: Documenting the mural for future restoration I Photo courtesy of SPARC