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2 Casa Romantica Murals Restored

January 17, 1998|SUSAN DEEMER

Two Spanish-style canvas murals commissioned by the city's founder in 1928--and later rescued from a dumpster in the 1980s--were returned to their home Friday at Casa Romantica after a five-month restoration project.

"I saved all these tiny pieces of canvas and tucked them behind [the paintings] for the day someone would take care of them," said Maureen Gates, who has operated a wedding business at the bluff-top mansion for 15 years.

One mural depicts two anchored Spanish galleons and sailors carrying baskets of fish and produce ashore. The other, a pastoral Spanish town marketplace, was possibly set in Seville.

"I always thought they were gorgeous and valuable," Gates said.

Artist Mark Lewis replaced the two murals into specially designed stucco alcoves in a courtyard where they had withstood decades exposed to the elements.

The city's Redevelopment Agency bought the historic home for $2.5 million in 1989.

The $10,000 needed to restore the murals came in part from a portion of a state preservation grant. The remainder came from part of a $195,000 community development block grant being used to retile and refurbish the mansion's Spanish-style red clay roof.

Lewis, an Irvine-based paint restoration expert, removed the 6-by-7-foot arch-shaped murals in September. The paint had faded and cracked after decades of people touching it, ultraviolet light exposure, wind and damp, salty air.

First, Lewis repaired holes, tears and chipped paint using fabric inserts and Japanese tissue paper to reinforce places where the canvas was missing. Then he cleaned the surface of the paintings.

Missing portions of the scenes--fish, fruit baskets, and arms and faces--were painted by Lewis. Special solvents were added to bring out faded colors and the signature of the artist, Norman Kennedy. Both murals have been placed inside wooden frames with protective acrylic sheeting.

Kennedy was a renowned artist in the 1920s whose work was commissioned by Hollywood movie stars and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

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