Highland Park Mural Needs Help

Two of the mural's original artists hope to restore the mural, but don't have the money to get it done

By Jacqueline Garc?¡a, EGP Staff Writer
Published on LatinoLA: August 2, 2014

Highland Park Mural Needs Help

Originally published at Republished by permission.

For 18 years, a colorful mural on the corner of Avenue 61 and Figueroa Street in Highland Park has served as visual lesson on the history of Mexican Americans. It's not uncommon for passersby to stop to take-in the iconic imagery contained in "Mexico-Tenochtitlan: A Sequence of Time and Culture."

"I see many people coming to take pictures and some of them are professional photographers," said Pete Choi, owner of the Dollar Deal Discount Store where the mural is painted.

Choi told EGP that the mural is unique and he believes "it is good for the community of Highland Park."

[b[Through the years, however, the mural has lost some of its original essence. It has been vandalized and tagged multiple times, the paint is fading and the wall is cracking in some sections.[/b]

Anthony Ortega and Andy Ledesma, two of the mural's original artists, hope to restore the mural, but don't have the money to get it done.

The mural was painted by the Quetzalcoalt Mural Project (QMP), a program to provide youth in underserved Los Angeles neighborhoods with opportunities to show their talent through public art. Ortega and Ledesma co-founded QMP and are now spearheading a campaign to bring the mural back to its original glory.

They have been trying since July 2009 to get a full restoration effort underway. In January of this year, they were able to raise enough money to remove the graffiti left behind by taggers, but the more extensive and costly work, fixing the cracked sections of the exterior wall and applying anti-graffiti glaze for conservation, have yet to be completed.

The muralists told EGP that they are reaching out to Highland Park residents, businesses, organizations and anyone who is interested in preserving the mural for help.

According to Ortega, with the help of Councilman Gil Cedillo, in whose district the mural is located, they have applied for an $8,000 grant from the city's Cultural Affairs Department (DCA).

"We are supportive of the project and have voiced this to DCA," Cedillo spokesman Freddy Ceja told EGP. However, "We have not been able to get a response with regards to where the proposal is," Ceja told EGP.

Ortega said the $8,000 grant would be a great boost, but added it could cost up to $25,000 to complete a full restoration.

The mural holds special meaning for Ortega beyond its importance as a significant piece of public art. He said the mural is an homage to his friend Daniel Robles, an honor student at Roosevelt High School who was the victim of gang violence. Before he was killed, Robles had this idea to paint a series of murals to educate people about his cultural heritage and the historical contributions made by Mexican-Americans in the areas of art, science and humanities, said Ortega.

So Ortega secured the building's then owner's permission to paint the mural and lined up 14 other muralists to work on the project. Four months later in December 1996, they unveiled the 100-foot long, 20-foot tall mural to the community.

"We would spend days at the library learning about culture and giving out ideas to see what we wanted to portray," Ledesma told EGP.

From birth and nature to history and the fight for human rights, the mural depicts historical moments in a colorful display that can be seen from far away. Even passengers riding the Metro Gold Line can admire the mural as it passes by Avenue 61.

John Densmore, former drummer of the famous rock band "The Doors" and "Rage Against the Machine" lead singer Zack de la Rocha, partially funded the original mural project back in 1996. Ortega said Densmore has donated $1,000 to this latest effort.

In January, Ortega and John Estrada, another of the original artists, removed graffiti and repainted a small section of the mural.

Choi told EGP that taggers seem to be respecting the cleanup, and have so far not retagged the mural.

Eighteen years ago, Highland Park was a "hot area" for a mixture of culture, graffiti and art. "We wanted to show cultural perspectives not only from the intellectuals, but also from the street experiences," Ledesma told EGP.

Ortega said they hope to find the original artists to restore the mural once funding is in place, but "since some [artists] have moved on, or moved out of the city," they may have to work with local artists and volunteers.

He told EGP that he's not going to give up on his passion to be able to contribute positively to the community. "I spearheaded it 20 years ago, and I still have to spearhead it now," he said.

Ledesma currently lives in Texas but told EGP he is excited about coming back to L.A. in a few weeks to start working on the mural.

"We have had nearly 20 years to reflect on the original project," he said. "I'm interested to see how Highland Park has changed."

Proud of their Chicano background, Ortega and Ledesma both said they hope the mural will inspire young artists in the community for another 20 years.

For more information on how to help or donate, call (720) 998-4370 or email

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