I like redwoods in person, and I like them on the walls of the school I must have driven or walked past at least 20,000 times. Not just any painted redwood forest will do, but the one painted by famous muralist Jane Golden, “probably 40 or 50 years ago” according to Janie Yaguchi Gates, principal of Olympic High School where the mural resides, for now. And deteriorates.
“It hardly represents our environment here in Southern California,” she pointed out. When the mural was installed, it was on the walls of what was then John Muir Elementary School, which moved three blocks up Ocean Park Boulevard, quite a while ago. “This hasn’t been John Muir for 20 years,” she said.
As for the art that has been selected to replace it — which I do not care for, too much like a photo, no soul — she pointed out that it does represent the area. I offered, “Do we need a mural of something we can walk eight blocks and see with our own eyes?” She responded, “I don’t think there’s another mural in Santa Monica that depicts our beach and our pier — do you know of one?” Discounting the fanciful horses escaping from the carousel just down the street, which we agreed was not really our beach or pier, I had to plead ignorance, and therefore concur.
But before you think she’s on a mission, trying to exert her will over a powerless public, that she necessarily loves these proposed mural replacements heart and soul and desires fervently to make us all look at them for the next 40-50 years, or that she can’t stand the redwoods and can’t wait to fell them, let me tell you — that’s not the case.
She told me her first instinct, upon finally deciding the peeling paint and falling plaster could no longer be tolerated, was to get the mural restored. “I knew some members of the community felt very strongly about that mural, and that it had a long history here in Ocean Park. I live in Sunset Park, myself.”
She wanted to have the mural restored by the original artist. But she was stymied because Jane Golden was not easy to find, until by chance her cousin’s daughter in Philadelphia heard about Gates’ quest and told her, she’s in charge of the city’s murals, here’s her phone number.
Golden was very sympathetic, Gates told me, and willing to do the restoration, but it would mean taking a leave from her job there and bringing a crew to Santa Monica for two to three weeks. The cost was way out of budget for little ol’ Olympic High. Given that, she gave her blessing to whatever we felt needed to be done, Gates said.
This was last summer. After 10 years as principal at Olympic (SMMUSD continuing education), she finally had some funds from Measure BB to make sorely needed improvements. Like, how about a library? The school opened in 1966, she told me, and has never had a library! The peeling forest walls were also a priority, but she wasn’t about to blow the whole budget there. So she pursued other courses.
What about a green wall? A trellis structure in front with climbing greenery, that would look good and preserve the woods. But the district office nixed that idea, saying the space in between would likely draw homeless squatters, maybe even critters.
So she proceeded to solicit artists’ proposals, and came up with what you see here. She held a public meeting last month, with the art and the artists, available for questions; only about two dozen people showed up, almost no questions asked. “I’ve done my best to give the people a voice in this,” she said, sending out notices to neighborhood groups, many e-mails, even putting up posters.
Even though, as she rightly notes, this is a building belonging to the school district, and not really open to public approval.
What do you think? It’s not a done deal yet. I feel those dark, calming woods at Lincoln and Ocean Park are not only part of our history, they’re an asset to our harried urban souls.
Anyone got a few thousand to donate to save the redwoods?
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at email@example.com.