RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Tuesday signed off on contracts between the Riverside County Flood Control & Water Conservation District and a Corona nonprofit, permitting the latter to begin the process of recreating an iconic patriotic mural on the crest of the Prado Dam spillway.
“The mural serves as a beacon of pride and patriotism for the surrounding communities,” Flood Control & Water Conservation District General Manager Jason Uhley said in a statement posted to the board’s policy agenda.
In a 4-0 vote without comment, the supervisors authorized the district to enter into a four-month compact with the Bicentennial Freedom Mural Conservancy, establishing that the conservancy should have unfettered access to Prado Dam and that all rights and licenses stemming from the nonprofit’s work on the spillway will be reserved to the district.
Prado Dam is the property of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the Flood Control & Water Conservation District operates within the space.
The Corps last fall initiated removal of the nearly five-decade-old Bicentennial Mural painted on the spillway crest in celebration of America’s 200th birthday in 1976.
The Bicentennial Freedom Mural Conservancy intends to create a mural that’s virtually identical to the previous one, utilizing more environmentally friendly products and relying on mostly private funds to complete the project.
“The mural will be restored to its bright red, white and blue hues … for another generation to enjoy,” according to a district statement released in September.
The Corps has granted the district a license for repainting the mural, which is expected to require at least two months’ work, entirely through volunteer labor. The new display will be permitted to remain in place for at least five years.
The Corps was impervious to requests for the original mural to remain in place, citing lead paint hazards and related reasons. Preservation advocates sued in federal court seeking to prevent the Corps from proceeding with dismantling the display, but the litigation ended in 2021 in favor of the Corps.
Efforts to have the National Park Service declare the former mural a national landmark did not gain traction. Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places Joy Beasley said in 2019 that it did not qualify for special protected status because there had been “massive over-painting, loss of original paint through normal wear, and the addition of other non-historic graffiti.”
In 2017, the Corps received over 200 letters and a petition containing 30,000 signatures, urging the government to find exceptions that would permit the Bicentennial Mural to be maintained.
According to the Corps, the first criterion for preservation was that the structure be at least 50 years old, and the old mural fell short of that.
Officials further stated the commemorative aspects of the original mural, which was 106 feet tall and stretched 2,280 feet across, were insufficient for federal recognition because it was created to honor one thing – – the nation’s 200th birthday — and that was done with celebratory intent, not because the people behind the artwork were endeavoring to create something permanent.
In July 2015, the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles federally sued the Corps to halt moves toward removing the mural. A U.S. District Court judge in Riverside issued an injunction barring any work at the site until all options for the mural’s future were explored. The injunction was lifted in 2021.
The original mural, which had been situated inside the flood control channel for the Santa Ana River, was painted in May 1976, when more than 30 Corona High School students spent several weekends voluntarily working on the project.
Upon completion, it read “200 Years of Freedom,” with a space depicting the Liberty Bell, followed by “1776-1976” painted in red, white and blue.
The spillway is visible from portions of the Corona (71) Expressway and the Riverside (91) Freeway.
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