Building owner Alan Ruzicka teamed with Venice Beach videographer Tony Vera to honor the memory of the late singer and former Venice resident Teena Marie with a mural on Pacific Avenue.

In life, altruistic journeys are often the longest, with pitfalls along the way. But despite the highs and lows during a particular endeavor, reaching the finish line can prove to be cathartic.
That is how Venice videographer Tony Vera feels now that a project that he embarked on over a year ago has come to fruition. A new muralist has done what two others have been unable to do thus far: create an image of an iconic local singer that is in line with the wishes of the owners of the building where it has been painted as well as the man who had the idea to celebrate her.
Vera, whose given last name is Echevarria, has been pushing relentlessly for a way to honor his musical idol, the late soul singer Teena Marie, known to her fans as “Lady T.” He decided that a mural was an appropriate way to pay homage to Marie, who was born Mary Christine Brockert in Santa Monica and was raised in the Oakwood neighborhood of Venice.
“I used to see her on Soul Train (a long-running musical variety show that featured R&B, soul and disco performances),” Vera recalled. “She’s a part of Venice’s history.”
Famed Venice muralist Rip Cronk was originally chosen to paint the mural but dropped out of the project due to creative differences. Vera then brought another artist on board, Jordan B. Nice, but the end result was not what Vera was looking for.
Alan Ruzicka, a mechanical engineer who also develops properties, co-owns the 1902 Pacific Ave. building where the new and improved mural is located with his partner Allen Sarlo. Ruzicka says the new work of art is a vast improvement over the last effort.
“It went from a D to an A,” Ruzicka said.
Ruzicka credited Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl for his support of the mural and for assisting with navigating the bureaucracy of City Hall to make certain that there would be no obstacles in allowing the mural to be painted.
“He was instrumental in making this entire thing happen,” the property owner said.
Vera, a Venice Beach resident, conceived the idea of creating a mural to honor Marie shortly after the singer’s death almost two years ago. Marie died Dec. 26, 2010 of natural causes at the age of 54.
A graduate of Venice High School in the mid-1970s, Brockert shortly thereafter became a household name for fans of rhythm and blues with several hit singles in the 1980s, including “I Need Your Lovin’” and her signature song, “Lover Girl.”
Sarlo knew Marie in high school.
“She was funny, energetic and boy, could she sing,” he remembered in a previous interview. “She was a true Venice girl.”
The new muralist, Hector Ríos, exhibited all of the skills that Ruzicka and Sarlo were looking for in an artist. They immediately knew he was their man after reviewing some of the sketches of the mural that he showed them.
Ruzicka said the first mural left a lot to be desired in terms of how Marie should have been depicted.
“It was terrible,” he said. “It looked like a cartoon.”
Enter Ríos.
The muralist has painted several murals in Los Angeles and Ruzicka decided on him after doing research on several artists.
Vera financed the first venture with a legal settlement that the photographer received from an altercation with former boxing champion Mike Tyson two years ago at Los Angeles International Airport.
The most recent mural painting was paid for by Ruzicka and Sarlo.
“For us, since (Marie) was from Venice it was important to create the most accurate depiction of her,” Ruzicka explained. “During our research we found that (Ríos) had done many high quality murals.”
Residents and passersby had complained to Rosendahl’s office about the first mural, according to Ruzicka, prompting him to hire Ríos.
A woman who lives on Pacific who identified herself only as Karen, thanked Ruzicka during an interview with The Argonaut for capturing what she felt is the essence of Marie, unlike the last mural that was painted before Ríos took over the project.
“(The new mural) captures the attitude that Teena Marie had,” she said. “Now she’s got life… she’s got sex appeal.”
After Rosendahl submitted a motion in 2010 requesting that city planners begin examining the possibilities of creating a new mural ordinance, muralists in Venice and around the city have become energized with the prospect of seeing more paintings and new digital prints in the city.
Since 2002, murals have been prohibited in public spaces with few exceptions.
According to the city Planning Commission, murals can be permitted under limited conditions on city, county, state and federal property pursuant to a legally adopted specific plan, supplemental use district or development agreement. The guidelines for private property are much less stringent.
City officials from the Departments of Building and Safety, Planning and Cultural Affairs are currently reviewing a potential ordinance specifically for murals. Earlier this summer, they sent a proposed plan for allowing new murals to the City Council.
During the time that the proposed new law is being crafted, city officials do not plan to cite building owners who allow murals to be created on their property.
Rosendahl, a former resident of Venice, has seen the Teena Marie mural and has worked with Vera since the videographer told the councilman of his plan to pay tribute to Marie.
“It’s beautiful,” the councilman said. “It has a lot of craftsmanship and it will be a great icon for all Venetians and visitors to Venice to look at.”
Vera also credited Rosendahl for his support of the mural project.
“Without the councilman’s help, there would not be a Teena Marie mural,” Vera said. “He really went to bat for me and I thank him for that.”
The councilman thanked the city departments that are working on the ordinance for agreeing not to create additional hurdles for Vera and the property owners in their quest to have the mural painted.
“I appreciate them allowing Venice to continue to flourish with their murals while they continue to work on the ordinance,” he said. “This is really is a win-win for everyone.”
Ruzicka says he is proud to have Marie’s image on his wall. “I feel like it’s a real eye-catcher,” he said.
Vera said it was a long road that he has traveled to see his favorite singer immortalized in the place where she grew up, but the journey has been well worth the ups and downs.
“My job is done,” he concluded. “It was hard but it got done.” §