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Protesters fail to save mural by famed Chicano artist from demolition at San Diego school

By Kristen Taketa, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

SAN DIEGO - Community members tried unsuccessfully to stop the demolition of a 32-year-old mural painted by a renowned San Diego Chicano artist at Memorial Prep Middle School in the Logan Heights neighborhood.

The school building bearing the mural was torn down Wednesday afternoon despite a community member, Encanto resident Monica Bernal, holding a spontaneous sit-in protest at the demolition site for about an hour, before being taken away by police.

The muralist, Salvador Roberto Torres, an influential artist who helped create Chicano Park in 1970, wrote to school district officials this week trying to enforce what he said is his right to remove the mural before it was destroyed.

San Diego Unified officials said the mural could not be saved because it was painted on a classroom building that contained a lot of asbestos. Breaking into the wall to preserve the mural would have released the hazardous material, officials said.

District officials said the mural has been documented and will be recreated at the new school site after it's constructed.

Still, community members saw the destruction of the mural as a loss for Chicano culture and the community's history.

 

Bernal, an Encanto resident who grew up in Sherman Heights and went to Memorial Prep, said she sees it as another form of erasure of history and culture in an area that is being gentrified.

"It's an erasure of who we are," she said. "Those murals are who we are. They tell our history."

The mural was painted around 1988 by Torres, who co-founded the Centro Cultural de la Raza and spearheaded a murals project at Chicano Park starting in 1973. The park now holds the largest collection of Chicano murals in the world, according to the University of California, Santa Barbara Library.

The mural on the school featured a diverse group of Memorial students and graduates, veterans of World War I, and Sharon "Christa" McAuliffe, a teacher who became an astronaut and who died in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger crash.

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