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The Neglected Highland Park Mural

How an L.A city councilman chose not to save a piece of Chicano history

By William Gallegos
Published on LatinoLA: July 8, 2008


The Neglected Highland Park Mural


Around October of 2007, you may have been one of the roughly 200 individuals who received an email from me or may have read a story regarding a two-part story about a then-30-year-old Highland Park mural that was getting vandalized thanks in part to gangbanger graffiti and that was getting neglected thanks in part to Councilman Jose Huizar and his staff of liars.

Those familiar with the Historic Highland Park Committee's website or LatinoLA.com may have also read my third part about the mural, which covered the events following the events in part two.

In part three, which I wrote in December 2007, I predicted that by July of 2008 nothing would still be done in fixing this Judith Baca-created Chicano mural, which has been standing proud at the AT&T building on Meridian Street since 1977. We have now come to July of 2008 and sadly, my predictions have came true.

More gangbanger graffiti than ever is killing this mural.

As mentioned in the past, I am not asking for money but simply three requests:

1) 15-20 minutes of your time in reading this edited timeline of what has been going on since I got myself involved in saving this piece of Highland Park history (THIS TIMELINE INCLUDES NEW INFORMATION YOU MAY HAVE NOT READ IN THE PAST)

2) forwarding this story you are reading to anyone currently or once associated with Highland Park, and;

3) contacting the Offices of Councilman Huizar and reminding him that the people of Highland Park have not forgotten about the mural the same way he has (contact info at the end of this email). The battle in saving the mural is not over yet. Your time, help and voice is once again appreciated. Your response and/or comments are welcomed (email address at end of email). THANK YOU!!!!


MURAL TIMELINE

AUGUST 2007 - Having seen far too much new graffiti accumulating on this mural, which I see on a weekly basis, I realize enough is enough and therefore decide to contact Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes the Highland Park area. Hoping for his response, I instead receive a typical carbon-copy email that thanks me for my email, informs me on how important the email is, and how someone will contact me soon. Someone could have emailed the councilman hate mail and that person would have likely received the same carbon copy email I was given in return.

EARLY SEPTEMBER 2007 - With no response from anyone associated with the Councilman's office, I decide to turn to Robert Mendel of the Historic Highland Park committee for help. Mr. Mendel attempts to contact his office and he, too, is unable to get a response. I then turn to the Boulevard Sentinel, a newsletter covering the Highland Park, Eagle Rock and other surrounding areas. The paper gives me the opportunity to publish my story, SAVE THIS MURAL FROM DYING. In it, I explain the history of the mural, its importance to the community, the graffiti killing it, and both the neglect and lack of care from Councilman Huizar.

MID SEPTEMBER 2007 - I receive an email from an individual by the name of Paul Habib, an employee of Councilman Huizar, who wanted to talk to me about the mural. He was contacting me not because he was finally responding back to my email I sent a month earlier but because he read my story in the Boulevard Sentinel. He asked that I give him a call so that we can discuss the mural's situation, yet in the same email told me that from this day on to take it up with another of Huizar's employees by the name of Zenay Loera. So that is what I did!

LATE SEPTEMBER 2007 - Having requested days earlier to Ms. Loera an update on the mural, I once again did not receive any type of response, so once again it would be Mr. Habib who would contact me via email. I decided to call him since talking to a live person would be better. Mr Habib apologized for not returning my email a month earlier and blamed it on a computer error . As for the mural, he claimed that the mural has been a priority for the past 6-12 months (late 2006/early 2007) but was at a standstill due to lack of money and only because of lack of money. He mentioned that Ms. Baca, the original muralist, had been contacted in getting her and her team in retouching the mural.

No disrespect to Ms. Baca but what good would that do if you won't come up with the money to pay for the retouching? That's like complaining to the LA Dodgers on not getting a winning team and then being told in response by owner Frank McCourt that they are working with the city in planning the greatest championship parade ever!

Mr. Habib claimed that fixing the mural would run as high as $50,000, yet he suddenly lowered the amount to $40,000 when I requested a breakdown of the expenses. He also avoided such questions I had such as "Why can't the Councilman contact me personally?", or "What happened to Ms. Loera's updates?", or "Why does it take forever to erase graffiti in Highland Park but just 1-2 days in Boyle Heights, home of both Councilman Huizar and my sister, the one who told me this?" Mr. Habib took my cell number and assured me that he would update me regularly on the mural.

LATE OCTOBER 2007 - With roughly a month passing without hearing from Mr. Habib and with new graffiti ruining the mural on a weekly basis, I decided to do something out of the ordinary. I decided to tell my story directly to anyone out there associated with Highland Park who happened to have an email address available. From Franklin High teachers and graduates to businesses and from neighborhood churches to anyone willing to hear me out, the responses were fantastic. One teacher had his class write letters to the Councilman while business owners promised to spread the word. One adult thanked me for the story on the mural which their family has lived near since they were a kid, while an ex-schoolmate of mine who I have not heard from in years told me that his brother is actually one of the football players on the mural. The time spent sending out these emails was well worth it!

MID NOVEMBER 2007 - On November 16th, and with roughly two months gone by without hearing updates from Mr. Habib, I would be both shocked and angered to discover four large gang initials on the Avenue 56 side of the mural. The initials, which could have taken several individuals as long as four to five minutes to create, took up roughly one quarter of the wall.

It was a sad day for supporters of the mural.

I went home and decided to contact both Councilman Huizar, Ms. Loera, and Mr. Habib. I told them how they all should be ashamed of themselves and how each of them have spit on the faces of every Highland Park person who both supported the mural and grew up with it. I also made it clear on how angry I was for not getting the updates I was promised.

Not surprisingly, it would be only Mr. Habib who would end up responding back. He requested that I email him my number so that he can give me the latest updates on the mural.

WAIT A MINUTE! WHAT HAPPENED TO MY CELL NUMBER I GAVE HIM TWO MONTHS EARLIER?

Listen to his great excuse.....my number was in his phone book which was in his car which he did not have access to since he was currently using another vehicle.

I politely told him to give me a call once he got a hold of his phone book containing my number. I told him he was more than welcome to call me in the evening any day of the week. For the next couple of days, he insisted I just email him my phone number. When Mr. Habib went far enough by getting both the editor of the Boulevard Sentinel and a fellow co-worker by the name of Henry Casas into persuading me to emailing my number, I called Mr. Habib a liar and a coward.

I told him how I would have commended him had he admitted he threw my number away and how I would have gladly then given him my number again. Instead, he chose to dig a deeper hole by lying. "WHY NOT JUST GIVE HIM MY NUMBER AGAIN", one may ask? As long as he insisted on claiming my number was in his phone book, then he was still more than welcomed to call me anytime once he got hold of his phone book.

THAT SAME WEEK, NOVEMBER 2007 - The same afternoon I saw the four large gang initials (November 16), I was reading the front page story on the California section of the LA Times. It was about the pay raises the local leaders of LA were given. It mentioned how the Mayor and some council members refused their raise while other council members accepted it. Councilman Huizar was one of two council members who accepted their raise but vowed to give their cut to charity.

According to this story, the Councilman had no idea which charity would get the funds. That is when I decided to make a challenge to Mr. Habib. With this story no more than 24 hours old, I challenged Mr. Habib into getting his boss into donating his cut of the raise to a new account that would be used for mural retouching expenses. Mr. Habib would only respond by asking me for my number so that we could talk about the updates and only the updates. He would not make any comments whatsoever on my challenge. My attempt at this challenge would not be accomplished. I would not hear from Mr. Habib again. He either chose not to admit he threw my number away back in September or his phone book was stolen. NOTE...members of the community (and not the councilman) have since removed the four large gang initials.

LATE NOVEMBER 2007 - Around this time, I received an email from Eddie Rivera, editor of the Arroyo Seco Journal. It seemed that Mr. Rivera was aware of my fight in saving this mural and was interested in using it in his December issue of the Journal. The best was yet to come....or was it?

Having been told to meet him on November 26 at 1 PM outside Carrow's restaurant on York Boulevard, it would be more than an hour until he finally showed up. Once in the restaurant, I talked with him for roughly another hour about everything related to the mural, the Councilman, his staff, the lies and and the phone book, as he jotted down notes. He then gave me a rough draft of what was going to the be cover of the December issue as well as his article on neglected murals. He assured me that bits and pieces of what I wrote and what I told him in the restaurant would be included.

When picking up the issue a week later at the library, it turned out he would choose not to include anything related to what I wrote or what I told him that day at Carrow's. His story mentioned no more than a couple of sentences about the mural but absolutely nothing about its damage or about my fight in saving it. Nothing even mentioned about Councilman Huizar or his staff.

Mr Rivera's story was mostly about a hip-hop style mural off the LA river that County Supervisor Gloria Molina had a problem with. My complaint towards Mr. Rivera was simple....he wasted my time that day and he chose not to keep his word!

Although Mr. Rivera was the worst of those choosing not help in my fight towards this mural, he was not the only one. Others who chose not to lend a hand included Chicano reporter Sid Garcia of KABC TV (did not respond to emails) and Chicano writer Dennis Romero of Tu Ciudad magazine (who would later tell me, via email some five to six months later, that just because someone pitches him an idea for a story does not mean he has to write it. I don't call this pitching an idea for a story. I call it asking for a helping hand in exposing a Chicano art tragedy).

This is the same Dennis Romero who a year earlier wrote a story that glamorized the poetic talents of a gangbanging killer who took the life of a young, university-bound Cathedral High school student trying to break up a fight at a Highland Park house party the killer attended. The victim also left behind an infant child.

It is amazing how 2 Chicanos like Sid Garcia and Dennis Romero can both be picked to be on the board of directors of the California Chicano News Media Association ccnma.org and still choose not to help me in bringing exposure to a damaged piece of Chicano history being neglected by Councilman Huizar. I guarantee to all those reading this that the results would have been different had my name been Edward James Olmos, George Lopez, Oscar De La Hoya, or Cheech Mar?¡n, a well-known fan and collector of chicano art.

EARLY DECEMBER 2007 - It seemed that after one too many phone calls and emails to the staff of Councilman Huizar from supporters angered over his neglect towards the mural, it was time for the councilman to respond with an update in the December 2007 issue of the Boulevard Sentinel. Councilman Huizar's response, only a paragraph long (and probably the words of Mr. Habib), mentioned a brief sentence about the mural's history and importance to the community. He mentioned that the retouching of the damaged mural, which in the past has been put on hold due to lack of money and only because of lack of money, was suddenly now being put on hold for legal reasons. Of course by no surprise, the councilman did not address these legal reasons.

NOW GET READY FOR THIS.....Councilman Huizar ended the paragraph by suggesting that if anyone had any more questions, comments or complaints regarding the mural, to please take it up with AT&T from now on, since the mural is on their building.

MID DECEMBER 2007 - With time wasted with Mr. Rivera and nonsense coming from Councilman Huizar's paragraph from the Boulevard Sentinel's December issue, it was time to write a final part in my quest of saving the mural. I chose not to send out 200+ plus emails as I did for parts 1 and 2 but instead chose to post it on t websites who have been supportive of my quest: www.LatinoLA.com and www.HistoricHighlandPark.org.

It would be in this part where I mentioned the events of both November and December. It was also in this final part where I would predict that by July of 2008 the mural would still be in the same neglected, damaged condition. Latino LA and the Historic Highland Park committee were the only sites who were kind enough never to refuse any of my stories. They even chose not to edit them. To its editors, Abelardo De La Pena Jr. and Robert Mendel, I am truly grateful.

For the best in both Highland Park and Latino Los Angeles news, updates, stories, and articles, please take the time to check out these two great websites. Having mentioned in part three that Councilman Huizar had defeated the supporters of the mural, which I believed was considered dead, I later felt it was necessary to take back those comments.

EARLY JUNE 2008 - I came upon a newsletter by the name of THE VOICE, which covers the El Sereno, Boyle Heights, and Lincoln Heights areas. A certain story in its June issue caught my attention. It was not Highland Park-related but it was certainly both mural- and Councilman Huizar-related.

It seemed that a new 100-foot long mural that was to be displayed at the LAPD's Hollenbeck station in Boyle Heights was stirring up some controversy. The sketches on this already, completed mural included men drinking alcohol, stray dogs, cars all shooting out smog on a congested freeway, vendors illegally selling Laker jerseys, and a police officer pulling over an ice cream man.

A community meeting was held in Boyle Heights where many of those who attended lashed out at Councilman Huizar for not doing anything about the disturbing mural. The councilman, playing the role of the innocent person, said in response, "I didn't know." According to one community volunteer, this was the exact response the councilman gave in the past when asked why a Boyle Heights Jewish community center was demolished. Having heard too much criticism and too many questions, the cowardly councilman left during the middle of the important meeting, claiming he had other city business to deal with (sure!).

NOW FOR THE WORST PART.....the City of L.A. paid the artist, a Long Beach resident by the name of Sandow Birk, $195,000 to design the mural (TRUST ME...YOU READ THAT AMOUNT RIGHT!). That six-figure amount is roughly four to five times the amount it would have cost to retouch the Highland Park mural. According to the residents of Boyle Heights, the controversial mural will NOT have a place for display.

NOTE...be aware that this is not the first time money that should have been used to help retouch the mural instead went elsewhere. Last year, Councilman Huizar was one of those who approved the multi-million dollar out-of-court settlement for Tennie Pierce, the black LA city fireman who cried racism when his fellow firemen quietly served dog food with his spaghetti. Only four councilmembers objected to the settlement with Mr. Huizar not being one of them.

MID JUNE 2008 - I was looking at the latest news on the Councilman's website at lacity.org and would you believe, he was actually introducing a motion that would help restore the murals in the neighborhood? Was he trying to make up for his stupidity involving the LAPD Hollenbeck mural? Not sure!

According to what I read about this motion in his site, he had been fed up of seeing the view of gangbanger graffiti from the comfort of his own home. And where does he live in case one forgot? BOYLE HEIGHTS, the same community that he has done so much for. He adds by saying, "This resolution will help our city fight graffiti and restore murals, WHICH ARE PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT IN EAST LOS ANGELES BECAUSE OF THEIR CONNECTION TO THE AREA'S CULTURAL HISTORY."

Say what????

"PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT IN EAST LA"? And I suppose the Highland Park mural, not located in East LA but in Northeast LA, is some unimportant piece of crap with no connection to Highland Park's cultural history? With an ex-president, Chicano friends posing in front of a mom and pop store, and a 1970's Franklin High football team, it's a Chicano mural of Highland Park's history for crying out loud!!!

Once again for Councilman Huizar, it's only about Boyle Heights.

Is it a problem that he does far too much for this community?

Not at all.

I GIVE 100% RESPECT TO THE COMMUNITY AND GOOD PEOPLE OF BOYLE HEIGHTS!

What is a problem is that the Councilman has forgotten that Highland Park also falls in his district. Check out the "NEIGHBORHOOD UPDATES" and "PRESS RELEASES" links at his website at lacity.org and see how little he has helped the people and community of Highland Park and its surrounding communities combined (Eagle Rock, Garvanza, Hermon, Glassell Park,and Mt. Washington) compared to Boyle Heights alone.

I assure you that you will not find any story or article in the links' archives regarding the Highland Park mural. A year coming soon since my involvement in saving the mural and still we are dealing with Councilman Huizar and his staff looking the other way when it comes to gangbanger graffiti ruining a 31-year old Chicano mural in Highland Park but with just one look at new gangbanger graffiti from the steps of a Councilman's home in Boyle Heights and suddenly a motion regarding gangbanger graffiti and defaced murals gets introduced.

Is it a positive step in the right direction? Of course it is but as I mentioned in part two months ago, I have always believed that there is a big difference when one says that they will do something and when one actually does that something.

JULY 2008 - With Councilman Huizar's motion not moving in any direction and with my predictions of the mural being in the same condition it was in back in late 2007 sadly coming true, this is where you, the mural supporter, comes in. It is time to contact the offices of Councilman Jose Huizar by reminding him that the mural is still waiting to be fixed.

It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that fixing the Highland Park mural has not been a priority for the councilman at all this year. Your voice can make the mural a priority.

Contact the offices and demand action and no talk (info below). Don't fall for possibly one-liners or excuses that may only be said in order to get you off staff members' backs. Demand to be put on a special V.I.P. phone or email list where the councilman or Mr. Habib can update you with news related to the mural and only the mural. Beware of the e-newsletter email list on the councilman's website.

Don't get suckered into joining or being put on this list since this list is only District 14 news and not mural-related news. As long as you are a taxpayer, your request to be on a V.I.P. list can't be denied. And most important, do not be forced to contact AT&T. You will only be making the jobs of Councilman Huizar and Mr. Habib far much easier. It was Councilman Huizar who was elected to serve your needs and requests, not AT&T. Would AT&T tell you to take up your phone bill problems with Councilman Huizar just because your phone line falls in his district? That's what I thought!

As for everything I have written both now and since day one regarding the mural, the councilman, his staff, the timeline events, and so on, I stand by all of it 100%. Everything written is both 100% true and accurate.

One may ask, why so much negativity towards the councilman? I have nothing against the man personally. I am sure he is a great family man but as a councilman for Highland Park, he is just the usual politician doing a far beyond crappy job.

Does one not yet see how it works?

They make promises at election time in exchange for your vote, and once they're in, your voice is out!!! As I have always said in the past, "It's not about being negative but about making one realize that sometimes the truth can hurt!"

Think I'm the only one saying things about the councilman that would make one upset at me? You ain't seen nothing yet! Go to GOOGLE.COM, type in any one of the popular LA political blog sites: LADAILYBLOG.BLOGSPOT.COM, MAYORSAM.BLOGSPOT.COM, or ZUMADOGG.BLOGSPOT.COM, along with JOSE HUIZAR (or any well-known figure in LA getting their share of controversy e.g. A. Villaraigosa, R. Mahoney, R. Delgadillo) and see the other controversies he is getting himself into periodically. I guarantee you'll be stuck reading story after story on these sites.

What should have been a mural supporter asking a councilman for a helping hand in fixing a Chicano mural built the same year Star Wars came out and the same year Elvis Presley died, instead ended up being a couple of hundred angry mural supporters getting struck with lies, excuses, and neglect from a Councilman and his staff.

Remember the 20-25 year old LAPD Dare mural along the 101 freeway in downtown LA?....due to lack of care from politicians, it was painted over rather than saved. Don't let the Highland Park mural be next on the hit-list.

Your time and help is needed!!! Contact the councilman today!!!!

Councilman Huizar's office...323-254-5295
Paul Habib: paul.habib@lacity.org

Comments: williamgallegos@yahoo.com

Read:


The Hope of Saving a Dying Mural - My 2 part story on this Highland Park tragedy


The Death of a Mural - The 3rd and final part of this Highland Park tragedy






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