Historic Landmarks Commission declines mural evaluation seeking alternative steps
The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission denied a mural evaluation report Wednesday that was part of the Ortega Park Master Plan that aims to implement a new skate park, turf field, wading pool and more.
The report, prepared by Site & Studio Conservation, LLC., concluded that seven of the murals in Ortega Park are eligible to be designated structures of merit and listed treatment plans for them.
The report recommended to destroy and replicate five of the murals and relocate two. This was met with opposition from many public commenters, such as Mark Alvarado, who referred to destroying the murals as a “slap in the face to the Latino community.”
“I hope it’s clear to you that what has been presented to you today is an attempt to cover up for the original intent to destroy every piece of historic art in the park. What has been presented to you has not been vetted with the community,” he said. “The insensitive and discriminatory statement made in both the Ortega Park Master Plan and the evaluation report which says the structures do not represent an intact, unique or particular style that’s important to the heritage of the city.
“That statement is a full disregard for our cultural and historical contribution that is still very relevant today.”
The commissioners quickly agreed that more options were needed other than destroying the murals.
“The value of the murals is not questioned,” Commissioner Edwin Lenvik said. “I think we’ve got to be more respectful of what the community wants… I just don’t know that we have heard the last word from the community on the issue.”
Added Commissioner Robert Ooley, “I find the report somewhat confusing and lacking. There’s a disjointed conversation about the treatment of the artwork.”
Vice Chair Steve Hausz said he was interested in looking into the concept of preserving the park itself as a home for the murals.
“It became evident that these murals could be considered historic or cultural resources and could be designated as structures of merit so there was never any public input to any great degree on that question,” he said. “That needs to come next. Staff needs to greatly include the neighborhood to explore these options of designating or not designating or making the park as a whole something that’s preserved and I’m uncomfortable deciding that for them.”
It was mentioned that the murals could potentially be eligible for federal Community Development Block Grant dollars for preservation, rehabilitation or restoration as historic properties, but city staff wasn’t sure at the time if the murals would qualify or what any of the designations would mean for the project.
In addition, commissioners discussed that murals are considered a First Amendment for the public.
“The commission in general feels the murals are of value as historic resources or cultural resources and we support some means to protect them, which needs to be further explored by staff and any decisions need to involve extensive community involvement,” Mr. Hausz said.
Therefore, the commission voted to send the writer back to write a new report with new options for the murals, and what designations and resources would look like.
There was one commissioner absent and one dissenting vote from Mr. Lenvik.
“It’s a silly request. It’s poorly defined, poorly structured. I would be really surprised if the staff knows what you want done. It makes no sense to me,” he said regarding his vote.
So, the murals are staying put for now, and the HLC will meet again to go over the new report and consider any designations or other protective measures for the murals.