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Historic Landmarks Commission requests more community input on Ortega Park murals

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Wednesday's two hour long Zoom session debating the cultural and historical merit of more than a dozen murals in Ortega Park ended without a final decision and a push for more community input.

Staff with the Parks and Recreation Department presented their Mural Evaluation Report to the City's Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC), which broke down costs to relocate, demolish and reproduce the artwork.

The report was prepared by Site and Studio Conservation, LLC (S&S) based in Ventura. 

"The commission received letters against the destruction of the murals and public comments echoing to the commission not to accept the City's recommendations. A major theme was more community input," said Mark Alvarado, in an email.

Alvarado, founder of One Community Bridge Project, is a major force behind the Ortega Park Mural Rescue Project.

"I'm a bit overwhelmed and humbled that I was able to lead things thus far. We will be organizing a committee to further the effort," said Alvarado.

Controversy centers on the city's upcoming and spectacular $14 million dollar revitalization project which includes the demolition of all existing structures at the nearly five-and-a-half acre site.

The new design includes new youth sports fields, a bigger and better pool for swimming and splash activities, a skatepark, a multi-generational zone and more. The much-needed renovation aims to turn the Eastside neighborhood park into a community destination. 

The walls of those structures slated for demolition are the canvas for 18 Aztec, Mexican and Chicano-themed murals. Many of the murals date back to the 1970s and include works by artists of local and national significance. Student artwork is also incorporated.

Cosmic Unity by Armando Rascon

Before Wednesday's HLC hearing, five of the 14 murals were recommended for reproduction and eventual demolition. Two (Blue Whale and Cosmic Unity) were recommended for relocation within the newly designed park. 

Blue Whale was painted by well-known local artists, Carlos Cuellar and Vanessa Teran, in 2005. According to S & S estimates, it would cost $8,500 dollars to relocate or up to $7,500 dollars to reproduce.

Cosmic Unity, considered "unique to Santa Barbara" by S & S and, part of the first group of murals, is touted as a "rare example of modern mural with Chumash-Chicano imagery."

Campesinos by Armando Vallejo

The cost to relocate some of the larger, more prominant murals is estimated at $300,000 dollars apiece.

Those include Campesinos (1979,1986,2008) by Armando Vallejo and Manuel Unzueta and, Ninos de Maiz (2008, 2011) by Manuel Unzueta and Annette Anzueta. (The former is an artist of local and national significance).

Organizers of the Ortega Park Mural Rescue Project have scheduled a public Zoom panel (information above) to discuss the murals' historical and cultural significance to the community of Santa Barbara.

Panelists include Josie Talamantez, co-founder of Chicano Park in San Diego, Maestro Manuel Unzueta, Santa Barbara artist and educator and, a trio of local and national art experts. 

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County

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