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Bringing lost 'History' back to life

Removed six years ago, a once-ravaged WPA mural makes a bold comeback in Inglewood.

August 11, 2007|Suzanne Muchnic | Times Staff Writer

Sixty-seven years after it was installed in Inglewood, with great fanfare, and six years after it was removed for restoration, in deplorable condition, Helen Lundeberg's massive WPA mural "The History of Transportation" has a new home. The 60-panel, 240-foot-long artwork runs along a curved wall in the new Grevillea Art Park, close to Inglewood City Hall and High School.

Thanks to city authorities, preservationists and concerned citizens, the refurbished mural has been given a place of honor at the corner of Manchester Boulevard and Grevillea Avenue. Outfitted with a protective coating that will make graffiti easy to remove, it's ready to meet the public at a dedication ceremony today at 2 p.m.

This is quite a comeback for the mural, which was badly battered and disfigured before it underwent treatment at Sculpture Conservation Studio in West Los Angeles. Made of petrachrome, a terrazzo-like material composed of crushed rock embedded in tinted mortar, the artwork was built to last. But two panels were destroyed by wayward vehicles; others were cracked and buried under layers of graffiti.

Lundeberg, a Los Angeles-based artist who died in 1999, at 91, was commissioned to make the mural by the Work Projects Administration's Federal Art Project, which employed many artists during the Depression. She designed the panoramic view of the evolution of transportation -- from Native Americans on foot to passengers boarding a DC-3 aircraft -- for the entrance to Centinela Park (now Edward Vincent Jr. Park).

Community efforts to save the mural didn't go anywhere until 2000, when the city of Inglewood received a $50,000 planning grant from the Getty Foundation and a state park bond act provided more than $1 million to restore and relocate the artwork. Conservation began in 2003 and was finished in a couple of years. Then came the challenges and inevitable delays in installing the work exactly as it was in 1940.

Finally on view again, the softly colored parade of people walking and riding into the future can be seen up close with surfaces cleaned, cracks filled and the two missing panels replaced by facsimiles in colored cement.

"It was a long time coming," says Andrea Morse, a partner at Sculpture Conservation Studio, "but it was worth it."

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suzanne.muchnic@latimes.com

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