GRAFFITI CLEANUP OPERATION HITS THE WALL
The outcome of a mural cleanup project could affect the future of the freeway mural program.
Some 26 years ago, the Olympics came to Los Angeles, bringing with it an outpouring of civic pride and responsibility. The streets were clean and welcoming, traffic was well-behaved and the freeways were adorned with beautiful murals.
Those freeway murals came to symbolize the city to many. Unfortunately, another element of modern freeways is now destroying them: graffiti. For a long time, the murals were considered off limits to taggers—something about respecting the work of other artists (if vandalism is one’s idea of art). As anyone traveling on any downtown freeway can see, that is no longer the case.
District 7, in partnership with the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, demonstrated Caltrans’ commitment to freeway art with a $1.7 million mural restoration program, completed in 2005. One of the 11 murals restored was “L.A. Marathon” by Kent Twitchell. The 20-year-old mural was painstakingly removed from its original location off I-405 near LAX, repaired and relocated to a new spot on I-5 near Stadium Way.
The paint was barely dry on the restored murals before they were covered with graffiti again. When the restoration was finished, a protective coating was applied which was supposed to make cleaning them fairly easy. Unfortunately the coating, which Caltrans had not used before, did not perform as well as expected and removing graffiti has proved to be anything but easy.
For now, the freeway murals remain in graffiti-spattered limbo; traffic impacts, environmental issues and cost have made cleaning them too difficult to undertake. But for the lucky “L.A. Marathon” mural, the future looks brighter--because it has a sponsor and champion.
The Rotary Club of Vernon is in the process of formally adopting the mural under the Department’s new Adopt-a-Mural program, modeled on the successful Adopt-a-Highway effort. As a result, the club provided funding to clean the mural, a 55.5-hour job that took place from December 27 through December 30.
Vincent Moreno, District 7 Adopt-a-Highway Coordinator, supervised the cleanup. Before it could begin, a detailed work plan and timetable, submitted to Traffic Operations, was developed and approved by Traffic Management, Maintenance and the Senior Transportation Engineer for that area.
While Caltrans handled the closure, the graffiti removal, including disposal of materials, was performed by outside contractor Nathan Zakheim and Associates. This was the first of four quarterly cleanups included in his bid. The next one will take place sometime between mid-April and mid-May.
Although the operation only involves one mural, it is being reviewed as a pilot project that could decide the future course of the mural program in the District. “This is a single art piece that is being used to assess the best way for Caltrans to preserve and protect other pieces,” Moreno said. “Based on the outcome, we will be able to determine if mural graffiti removal is feasible.”