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Artist Files $5.5-Million Suit Charging Mural Was Destroyed

November 11, 1986|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

Artist Tom Van Sant filed a $5.5-million lawsuit Monday against the owners of AT&T Center, claiming his 120-foot-long mural depicting California's cultural history was destroyed during remodeling of the building.

The prominent Los Angeles artist claims the mural, painted in 1967 for the lobby for what was then to be Southern California's tallest building, is a cultural resource that the entire community has a stake in protecting.

Van Sant, whose work has been commissioned for a number of public buildings, including Inglewood City Hall and the new international terminal at Los Angeles Airport, painted the acrylic-on-canvas mural under a commission for what was to be Crocker-Citizens Plaza at 6th and Hope streets.

The mural, painted over a period of two years, depicts successive waves of immigration in California, beginning with the Spanish-Mexican influx from the south, gold and land pioneers from the 19th century and Chinese railroad workers, culminating in a study of the state's industrial and technological development.

According to the lawsuit, Crocker-Citizens National Bank sold the plaza to Mitsui Fudosan USA Inc. in 1982. Two years later, the suit claims, Mitsui and tenant companies AT&T and Aspen Corp. remodeled the lobby and destroyed the mural without notifying Van Sant.

Spokesmen for Mitsui and Wells Fargo Bank, which has taken over Crocker's assets and liabilities, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The suit seeks $500,000 in damages, about the equivalent of the mural's worth, plus $5 million in punitive damages to go to a nonprofit cultural foundation to be designated by the court.

Van Sant's attorney, Allen I. Neiman, said state law protects artists even after their works have been sold. "Once you sell it, that isn't the end of your interest," he said. "Not only does the artist have a continuing interest, but the community does."

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