Travelers on Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica near Fourth and Fifth Streets glide between whales and dolphins swimming placidly in the ocean, and horses running free. Daniel Alonzo painted “Whale of a Mural” in 1983, and David Gordon painted “Unbridled” in 1985. These artists have recently felt support from community members when the City of Santa Monica assessed its murals.

Daniel Alonzo, a Santa Monica native, first approached the city about painting the wall in 1978, when he was just three years out of high school.

“As a kid I took the bus to the beach along this road,” Alonzo says. “It’s been a pathway throughout my life.”

The city awarded Alonzo the wall in 1982 but had no funds to pay him for the mural. Without receiving any money from the city, he painted the mural free.

“I loved the community, and it was something I wanted to do,” he says.

Earlier this year the City of Santa Monica hired mural conservators to prepare a report detailing the condition of 14 murals in Santa Monica. When the city told Alonzo it was considering hiring a restoration company to fix his peeling mural, he set about getting support from schools and businesses in the area so he could repaint it.

“Restoration can do incredible things, but it can never bring back colors that were there,” Alonzo says. “Why pay a company when I’m the artist, and I live here?”

When the conservators presented their report to the Public Art Committee (PAC) in April, artists Alonzo and Gordon were present along with supportive members of the community. Alonzo presented the committee with seven letters and a petition with over 900 signatures supporting the Ocean Park murals in general and “Whale of a Mural” specifically.

Conservators reported that “Unbridled” and two other murals should be conserved and that “Whale of a Mural” should be repainted in order to restore its original colors and intensity.

In part because of the strong community support, the Public Art Committee recommended that “Whale of a Mural” and “Unbridled” be given priority for conservation.

Hamp Simmons, City of Santa Monica cultural affairs coordinator, says his department is very impressed with the amount of community support the Ocean Park murals receive. “When the murals get the smallest bit of graffiti the city gets ten to 12 phone calls,” Simmons says.

He added that the murals are a beautiful entryway to the beach and they have a lot of historical significance for the community. “People love them and the cultural affairs staff wants to support that,” says Simmons.

Walt Zambas, a Santa Monica resident and businessman, says that when he heard thoughts in town that the city was deciding whether to create a new mural or preserve this one, he got involved by getting signatures in support of the mural.

“It wasn’t a hard sell,” Zambas says. “People told me it was their favorite mural and they wanted it fixed.”

Once the Public Art Committee recommended that the city preserve “Whale of a Mural” and “Unbridled,” estimates of $115,000 for the repainting and preservation of the 8,000-square-foot “Whale of a Mural” and $60,000 for restoration of “Unbridled” were given to the PAC.

Last week the committee offered its recommendation to the Santa Monica Arts Commission that the city pay $75,000 for the repainting of “Whale of a Mural” — a price far below the estimate given to the city.

“There’s a big constituency of the community that seems in favor of keeping the mural and we want to acknowledge them and have the mural,” says Phyllis Green, chair of the Santa Monica Arts Commission.

Green adds that the outpouring of interest in Alonzo’s mural has impressed the commission, but Alonzo’s estimate is a lot of money for the budget.

Alonzo maintains his estimate is well below the going rate for a mural of this size.

Even though the repainting estimate goes beyond the city’s funds currently dedicated to mural conservation for the 2004-2005 fiscal year, city sources say funding is there to meet the estimate from unallocated Percent for Art funds.

On November 15th, the Public Art Committee’s motion of $75,000 for “Whale of a Mural” will be presented to the Santa Monica Arts Commission, which will move to adopt or change this recommendation.

Alonzo, who continues to paint murals and faux finishes, says he wants to work with the city to repaint the mural. “The mural’s been through two generations. Teenagers at the time I painted it now have kids. It’s a part of the community.”

Supporters of the mural can join Alonzo at the public meeting of the Arts Commission on November 15th, at the Ken Edwards Center.

Information, Daniel Alonzo, 310-453-3305.

Julie Kirst can be reached at: jkmailtalk@yahoo.com

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