Beach Flats Community Murals

The Beach Flats Community Garden and the neighborhood murals have a long connection. The original mural was created in 1993, the same year the garden took shape.

In 1992 community members painted three murals directed by a community artist, Victor Cervantes, with help of many community youth and older residents. Now, over two decades later, the neighborhood is beginning to change – the old La Bahia Apartments have been demolished to begin construction on a large conference hotel, new condos have gone up, and the large murals created in the 1990s, the last remaining public Latino heritage murals, were recently painted over in favor of a more ‘up to date’ and ‘universally appealing’ style.

In 2013 the City decided restoration of the largest of the three murals was too expensive, and hired an artist to paint a new mural. Subsequently, City staff came and painted over the old mural, literally white washed it. Community residents came out to ask what was happening, objected, and eventually stood in the way of the workers. After intense community backlash and a lawsuit against the City, Cervantes and community were offered a formal apology and $30,000 (York 2015). Not long after this decision, in late summer 2015, vandals painted over the remaining two smaller murals, several Spanish language signs, and a piece of art depicting an indigenous farmer in the Beach Flats Garden. The main sign near the entrance of the neighborhood was vandalized to have “Flats” taken out of “Beach Flats Community”. The vandals were not found but the clear racism in these attacks upset many inside and outside the neighborhood. While participating in the repainting of one of the murals, a representation of the Virgin Guadalupe, garden volunteers encountered another side to the issue. A middle-aged white woman who had bought a house in the neighborhood several years before came and demanded we stop repainting this mural, claiming it was offensive to her because of its religious content and not in keeping with the new direction the community should go in.

The whitewashing of the mural – and discussions about what to do next – sparked debates about racism, gentrification, and injustice in the Beach Flats. The debates got heated in City Hall–and in the streets. In September 2015, vandals painted over the one remaining piece of the original mural. They also destroyed several Spanish language signs, including the original “Mirando al Futuro” sign in the garden. People argued about whose culture deserved to be celebrated in the new mural.
Drawings over whitewash. By 2014, the original mural was showing signs of deterioration. The city decided to develop a new mural. They whitewashed the mural in the summer. Unfortunately, the artist and many in the Beach Flats community didn’t know this was happening. They were blindsided and angry.  In 2015, the city offered Beach Flats residents an apology and paid the original artist Victor Cervantes $30,000. The city committed to involving the community in creating the new mural at the site. (Photo by: Nopal Media)

Design process.
The city selected artist Irene Juarez O’Connell to lead a new mural project.  During January-March 2016, Irene coordinated several community brainstorms with Beach Flats residents. Children, adults, and elders shared stories, memories, and visions of their neighborhood. Irene wanted the new mural to continue the legacy of the original mural by elevating the history and culture of the Latinx neighborhood. (Photo by: Nopal Media)
Mural Washing. The Beach Flats neighborhood launched the Beach Flats Mural Project in 2016. Residents scrubbed down the wall in preparation for the new mural. Wiping the wall clean was a symbolic step in the community’s process of healing. (Photo by: Nopal Media)
Gardener Angelina and her family are the inspiration for this part of the new mural. A mother and her two daughters watch children playing in the garden. The children hold brooms and rakes. They symbolize the neighborhood transforming an empty lot to a thriving garden space. The garden is a space where younger generations learn ancestral knowledge. The mural includes a depiction of the Mexican deity, Chicomecóatl. She is the female spirit of corn and sustenance. The four corn people represent the four cardinal directions, and the range of human diversity. (Photo by: Nopal Media)
This scene represents community strength and pride. The caution tape around the nopales is a reminder of the 2016 loss of garden land and community. The two main figures represent gardeners Don Emilio and Domingo. Next to them is a corn stalk, beans, and squash – the “three sisters” of the milpa farming system.
The new mural is titled Aprendiendo del Pasado Para Vivir en el Presente, Siempre Mirando Hacia el Futuro // Learning from the Past, Living in the Present, Looking Towards the Future. It shows growth and prosperity in the Beach Flats community. 

The new mural is titled “Aprendiendo del Pasado Para Vivir en el Presente, Siempre Mirando Hacia el Futuro // Learning from the Past, Living in the Present, Looking Towards the Future.” It shows growth and prosperity in the Beach Flats community.