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THE WALL : Inglewood's overlooked WPA jewel

January 11, 1998|Jim Heimann

In back of the 241-foot span of the Petrachrome Wall of Inglewood are stacked concrete vaults for use at the cemetery across the street. But in front of this seldom-visited wall is a rare example of an extant outdoor WPA mural. Created for the California branch of the Federal Arts Project by artist Helen Lundeberg, it was proclaimed the world's longest petrachrome mural when it was installed in November 1940. Composed of tinted artificial stone aggregate similar in appearance to terrazzo, the mural traces the history of transportation in the Centinela Valley from Native American trails to DC-3s. Unlike the metaphysically inspired paintings Lundeberg produced in later years, it was done in the flat poster style of 1930s American regionalists. One of several murals Lundeberg created for the WPA in the Los Angeles area, it is unusual for being on an exterior wall. Intended to "last as long as the remaining great monuments of antiquity," as this newspaper calmly characterized it at the unveiling, its present condition suggests that may mean only a few more years. Though restored in 1993 after nearly disappearing under graffiti, parts are now missing or cracked and the original deep colors have faded. Still, it survives, ignored by the thousands who pass it on this unremarkable stretch of Florence Avenue, but an inspiration for contemporary artists as an effective use of public space.

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