In one corner of a vibrant mural on the wall of the recreation building in Arroyo Seco Park, a group of children signed their names Saturday in peach-colored paint.
The mural was their creation, designed and painted as part of a class taught for six weeks by a neighborhood artist. It was the latest product of an arts program that three days a week turns the airy rooms of the recreation building into a backdrop for laughing groups of youngsters.
Two years ago, the 50-year-old building was no place for children. It was boarded up and graffiti-scarred. Residents of the neighborhood considered it an attraction for vandals, graffiti artists and drug dealers.
The transformation is the work of a tenacious group of parents who petitioned the city in 1985 to help them reclaim the park. The group of 360 parents, the Hermon/Monterey Hills Parents for Youth, started the classes, secured city funds to keep them going and have watched the effort they dubbed "Art in the Park" grow into a city-operated program.
It is the only satellite program of the Junior Arts Center in Barnsdall Art Park, a Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department facility acclaimed for its arts classes for children.
Run by an instructor who also teaches at the Junior Arts Center and is paid by the city, the program annually serves about 400 youngsters ages 2 to 18. The classes cost $1.50 an hour and usually run for a month or so.
The same parents who got the program started now spend their time organizing fund drives to pay the tuition for any child who wants to join. On the outside of the clubhouse in the park, the parents have painted a sign that says the program is dedicated "to the love of childhood, the love of children and the love of art."
"When the kids came into class the first time, I handed them a blank sheet of paper and they just looked at me," said Louis Becerra, a Los Angeles muralist in charge of the mural project. "With a blank sheet of paper, you're handing them freedom right there. That's something they've never had."
Six weeks later, a mural that 14 children created under Becerra's tutelage is on display on the side of the building. It is on removable Masonite panels. In July, Becerra and a new group of children will begin work on a new one.
Since the program began at the clubhouse in 1987, the building has become something of a community center, with such groups as Mothers Against Drunk Driving using it for their meetings and the Junior Arts Center installing exhibits owned by the city.
This summer four children's musical performers will give free concerts at the park, and classes at the center will expose children to mask-making, Mexican art, animation, sculpting in clay and painting on scarfs, T-shirts and sneakers.
In 1985, when the Hermon/Monterey Hills Parents for Youth formed, the park was almost vacant. Its tennis courts were seldom used, and there was no community center in the area, said Robyn Salazar, who organized the group.
Salazar and her friends began holding art classes for children in a garage on Monterey Road. Soon they were offering ballet classes and a soccer club as well. The instructors were all volunteers and mostly mothers, and they quickly outgrew the space, Salazar said.
So the parents asked the city for money and suggested the clubhouse in the park as an ideal spot. Two years later, with the help of City Councilman Richard Alatorre, the group received $9,500 and the help of the Junior Arts Center to run the program. This year the city gave it $15,000.