A lifeguard tower with an iconic mural image of a child’s building blocks that has stood on the sands of Marina del Rey for over 20 years has been reduced to a pile of plywood.
Alphabet Block Construction, a mural painted by Venice muralist Rip Cronk and a team of special needs teens from Venice High School in 1997, was demolished by the county Department of Beaches and Harbors Wednesday, Dec. 9. The primary reason for its destruction, according to Beaches and Harbors spokeswoman Dusty Crane, was input from beach personnel regarding potential problems with the tower.
“The lifeguards think that it’s a safety hazard,” she said.
The tower, which stood at the corner of Admiralty Way and Via Marina, was one of Cronk’s lesser known murals but was a fixture for years at Marina Beach, known locally as Mothers Beach.
Beaches and Harbors’ Maintenance Division handled the destruction.
“It will take approximately 25 minutes to crush the tower and another 20 minutes to load it into the dump trucks, plus one hour to sanitize the beach to remove any foreign debris,” Debra Talbot of Beaches and Harbors told The Argonaut before the structure was demolished.
Sally Sarlot, who owned the rights to Alphabet Block Construction, said the demolition was a sad end to something that began with a lot of promise.
“I just think it was a great way to reach out to kids,” she said.
The Argonaut reported on Nov. 18 that the colorful plywood structure would be demolished by the county unless someone stepped forward to take it. Originally scheduled to be destroyed by the end of November, the mural tower, though it had grown worn in some places, remained one of Mothers Beach’s most recognizable – if not well known – signposts until its destruction.
“I had really hoped that someone would save it,” said Sarlot, the owner of Beach Art, Inc. who collaborated with Cronk on the mural. “I resigned myself that no one would.”
The mural was conceived as one of 30 works of art to be displayed on lifeguard towers throughout Los Angeles County in the late 1990s, and Alphabet Block Construction was to be the prototype for the decorated towers, according to Beaches and Harbors.
Cronk, a well-known artist who has painted many murals along the Venice Boardwalk, was philosophical about losing one of his creations.
“They have a (life span) and they’re really not meant to be permanent objects,” the artist said. “You’re lucky if they’re around 20 years because often the paint deteriorates and they have to be taken care of.
“While the murals often become more important to the community the longer they’re there because they become part of the history of the community and they have this iconic value, on the other hand they’re at best temporary objects,” Cronk continued. “If I get 10 years out of a mural, I consider myself very lucky.”
Wendy Kornbeck, a music teacher at Venice High School, brought her students to sing at the dedication of the Alphabet Block Construction tower. She feels that Sarlot did not get the credit that she deserved for initiating the concept of having student-created art on county beaches.
“We sang at the dedication (of Alphabet Block Construction) because we supported our special needs students who worked on the lifeguard tower,” Kornbeck said. “Sally worked very diligently to have student artwork along the beaches and on lifeguard towers.”
The public arts nonprofit organization Portraits of Hope has taken the lead in turning lifeguard towers into art projects. During the spring and summer months, together with youth and adults, they created colorful panels on beach structures across the county, including in Marina del Rey and Venice. The participants, much like the original artists from Venice High that helped Cronk with his mural, have medical and physical challenges as well.
Kornbeck, who has been active in Marina del Rey politics for several years and who keeps her boat in G Basin, said the structure should not have been torn down.
“Rather than be destroyed, it should have been kept as a monument,” she said. “I think that it’s criminal, and it’s really a sad statement that it was destroyed.”
Sarlot, who initially said she would film the destruction of the tower when and if it was demolished, said she recently drove by Alphabet Block Construction and decided that she could not bear to see it after all. “I just didn’t think that I could experience it,” she said the day before it was torn down.
Cronk, who was not present at the demolition, said he was not especially sad to know that the mural will no longer be at Mothers Beach. “It had its time,” the muralist reiterated. “I’m proud to have done it.”