Mark Alvarado was among the first to raise the alarm last November when it became evident there was no plan to save the Ortega Park murals. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

The fate of an $8.5 million grant application to fund a major renovation of the Eastside’s Ortega Park depends now on whether two groups of muralists and artists with somewhat different visions can find common ground between now and the application’s June 12 drop-dead deadline.

In recent months, Ortega Park has emerged as ground zero in a culture war over the park’s many murals ​— ​an artistic celebration of the South Coast’s Chicano and Chumash heritage rooted very much in the Latino Pride movement of the late 1970s. At issue between the competing groups is how many of these murals should be preserved in their current physical form and how many can be repainted and re-created on new edifices throughout the dramatically redeveloped park should the state grant ​— ​slated for neglected parks in underserved communities ​— ​be awarded. 

Initial plans making their way through the city’s review dismissed the prospect of mural restoration as economically infeasible. Many of the park’s murals were painted in the late 1970s and early 1980s on unreinforced concrete that can be moved only at great cost. It’s not clear to what extent the dividing line between the two groups is more personal or programmatic; one group appears more intent on moving forward with the grant and using the proceeds to re-create existing murals, while the other seems more skeptical about the grant and wants to spend more on physical preservation.

Although there’s been much talk of the two sides getting together to hammer out their differences over the past two weeks, that has not happened yet. In the meantime, city Parks and Recreation staff has already submitted the state grant application, but with the full expectation that key documentation asserting that any loss of existing murals will be “adequately” mitigated. For that finding to be made, consensus about what’s to become of the murals is critical. 

“Deportes” (1979) by Manuel Unzueta at Ortega Park | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

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