Censored Olvera Street mural to get visitor center

The mural
The mural "America Tropical" after Getty conservators removed paint that had been applied to censor the work's content.
J. Paul Getty Trust

City of Los Angeles and Getty officials unveiled yesterday plans for a $9 million visitor center for a long-hidden, historic mural in downtown L.A.’s Olvera Street.

Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros painted “America Tropical” on a second story, outdoor wall in 1932. The artist criticized United States imperialism in Latin America by depicting as the painting's central image an eagle perched atop a crucified Mexican Indian.

Tim Whalen, director of the Getty Conservation Institute, said the painting’s theme led city leaders to paint over the work soon after it was finished. “This mural is a remarkable object. Regrettably it’s a ghost of itself,” he said.

About 30 years ago art historians began calling for the mural’s preservation. The work had inspired a generation of Mexican American artists in the 1970s. Whalen said the Getty became involved in the work’s preservation about 20 years ago because it’s one of L.A.’s cultural treasures.

“Think about Los Angeles and look at the public art that’s in this city, the mural “America Tropical” at El Pueblo is probably the most important work in as much as it was done by one of the most important 20th century artists,” Whalen said.

The sun, wind, and earthquakes, along with Siqueiros’s painting techniques have deteriorated and damaged the mural's once vibrant colors. The extent of the damage led the Getty to opt against trying to restore the work to its original condition.

The purpose of the visitor center, Getty conservationists said, will be to tell the story of the mural and give the socio-political and cultural background in Los Angeles at the time the painting was completed. The center will include wall text, projections, and interactive interviews of historians. The center is set to be completed by 2013.

Many Los Angeles artists, elected officials and leaders in the Mexican American community attended the unveiling of plans for the center at the Taper Auditorium in L.A.’s Central Library. L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar told the crowd, “We have to uncover this beautiful mural and show it to the world.”