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High-tech plans give new life to downtown mural

A digital reproduction will enable the piece on a Broadway building to be relocated on facade.

June 16, 2012|By Jamie Wetherbe, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • A mural on a downtown building will be resized and repainted.
A mural on a downtown building will be resized and repainted. (Los Angeles Times )

A 100-year-old downtown building with a mural by artist Johanna Poethig on one side is about to get a face-lift. But the 19-year-old mural ultimately will return to a different wall of the same building.

Los Angeles city officials gathered Friday to announce the digital preservation of the mural, which in two years time will be resized and repainted on the onetime department store on Broadway near 4th Street.

The nonprofit Social and Public Art Resource Center, a mural preservation organization, will use new technology to preserve Poethig's "Calle de la Eternidad" mural, which was painted on the building's facade in 1993. SPARC worked up the plan with the building's owner, David L. Gray, and Los Angeles City Councilmember José Huizar.

Gray, a Los Angeles developer and architect, recently purchased the mostly empty building, and over the next two years will convert the structure into offices atop ground-floor retail spaces.

Work to tear down the facade, added in the 1950s when the building was Graysons department store, begins Monday night and will reveal the building's original windows, which date back to 1911. The mural will be repainted on the south wall of the building.

"[Gray] isn't required by law to maintain this mural and the fact the he's helping us … so folks around here are really happy," said Rick Coca, communications director of Huizar's office. He said Gray will foot the bill for the digital preservation.

SPARC plans to raise some of the cost by auctioning off pieces of the cement mural.

The mural, measuring 42-feet-wide and 72-feet-tall, has been scanned and photographed using 120 digital frames by SPARC. The plan is for the images to be stitched together so Poethig can take brush to screen and digitally re-create the painting. A fabric canvas, 20% smaller than the original acrylic-on-concrete mural, will adorn the building once it's renovated.

"SPARC has really pioneered techniques in digital reproductions of murals … and this is the first chance we're getting to use this technology to save a mural in Los Angeles," Poethig said.

She added that while her initial response to the mural coming down was "terrible," she's pleased the site-specific piece will stay (almost) in the same place.

"It's really tied to this street and the history of the building, but also the history of the people who live around the building," she said.

The mural, which shows a pair of hands outstretched toward the sky paired with Aztec imagery, symbolizes dislocation and adaptation of the Los Angeles Latino community.

The prayerful piece, initially commissioned by SPARC, references Broadway when it was known as Calle de la Eternidad (Eternity Street) and used as a funeral procession route to Calvary Cemetery at the end of what is now North Broadway.

The preservation is part of the larger Bringing Back Broadway initiative, a revitalization push spearheaded by Huizar to restore downtown as an entertainment and retail hub of Los Angeles. Other in-progress downtown additions include the Ace Hotel and Two Boots Pizza setting up shops, as well as the removal of the 50-year-old facade and renovation of Clifton's Brookdale Cafeteria that started earlier this year.

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