From the Stacks: ‘The Big Picture’

Big Picture Cover

I picked up “The Big Picture,” Melba Levick and Stanley Young’s 1988 book about Los Angeles murals, not realizing what a terribly sad book it would be. As Young notes: “Most artists are aware that, exposed as it is to the elements, both human and natural, there is a limited life-expectancy for any mural.”

I wanted it for one picture, specifically.

Freeway Lady

The picture I wanted was Kent Twitchell’s “Freeway Lady,” a destroyed artwork that was one of my favorites. Unfortunately, the book is a catalogue of murals that have either been blotted out or badly damaged by vandals and the elements.

More important, as we are debating super-graphics on large buildings, the book serves as a reminder of the enormous murals that were painted in downtown Los Angeles and in Hollywood as ads for Nike in a campaign by the Chiat-Day agency.

A gigantic mural titled “Baseball” by David Larks covers what was then the Bekins Building. The building is, of course, blank today.

Baseball Blank
3614 S. Grand Ave., via Google maps’ street view.

John McEnroe

And here’s John McEnroe by David Larks and Adam Lustig, looming over the Pantages Theatre.

6246 Hollywood Blvd., via Google maps’ street view.

And even the murals that survive are in terrible condition:

Glendale Blvd.

Here’s how Ruben Brucelyn’s “Sports” looked in 1988.

Glendale Blvd.

604 Glendale Blvd. via Google maps’ street view.

Victor Clothing
Here’s a particularly annoying example. I see Twitchell’s “Bride and Groom” and East Los Angeles Streetscapers’ “El Nuevo Fuego” every day because it’s on the Victor Clothing Building (formerly the City Hall Annex) next to The Times parking structure. Only now it looks like this:

June 28, 2011, Victor Clothing Store
I’m sure Levick and Young intended “The Big Picture” as a celebration of one of the great things about Los Angeles and instead it serves as a requiem for what is no more. Even “Ed Ruscha Monument,” which is on the cover, has been destroyed.  (Twitchell sued the U.S. and 11 other defendants for $1.1 million in 2008.)

big_picture_zoot_suit_rabbit It’s important to note that “The Big Picture” also documents vernacular artwork found on the Eastside and Judy Baca’s famous “Great Wall,” in the San Fernando Valley, which has suffered its own type of destruction.

Is there any hope in all the gloom and doom?

After all, Baca told Patt Morrison last year: “We’re in the most destructive time ever in the history of murals in L.A.”


“Nino y Caballo” by Frank Romero is peeling and has been vandalized.

Well, I bought “The Big Picture” at the Last Bookstore, which just opened at Spring and 5th streets. So far, the shop seems to be popular. Is it too great a leap to see a connection between downtown’s rebirth and a renaissance in murals? I suppose so. Then again, I wonder what “Freeway Lady” would look like printed as a super-graphic and hung on the Hotel Figueroa.

Note: At last report, “Freeway Lady” is to be repainted on a section of the Student Services Building at Los Angeles Valley College.

“The Big Picture” is listed on Amazon and Bookfinder.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1988, Architecture, Art & Artists, Books and Authors, Crime and Courts, Downtown, From the Stacks, Hollywood, Latinos, Photography, Preservation, San Fernando Valley, Sports, Zoot Suit and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to From the Stacks: ‘The Big Picture’

  1. Gary Martin says:

    In 2005 I took a walking tour of LA and while seeing the Public Library downtown the woman at the desk in the art department gave me a brochure of Murals In LA. I remember the Freeway lady being in that brochure. I tried to incorporate the murals into my self guided tours but , frankly, I found most of them dull or too kitsche


  2. Gary Martin says:

    At the Santa Monica Hostel on 2nd St. betn Broadway and SM Blvd, the entrance sits back from the street and on the left wall of that open area there are the remnants of signs dating back to the early 1900’s. Not only is it the best mural in LA, it is the best example 0f modern art in LA. I hope it’s still there.


  3. The Freeway Lady had a glint of mad knowledge in her eyes. She always caught mine. There is something zen in the impermanence of it all. Perhaps that is what she was showing us.


  4. Randy Skretvedt says:

    The City of Lompoc has murals galore, and as far as I know, none has been touched by vandalism. We could move the Freeway Lady there, but of course, as there are no freeways through Lompoc, we’d have to change her name. LA was so beautiful just before the Olympics arrived in 1984; if I remember correctly, that’s when many of the sports-oriented murals were first painted. I wish we could give back to the city the sparkle it had 27 years ago.


  5. PD says:

    Those of us above a certain age will remember the Pink Lady, a mural of a nude woman over the Malibu Canyon tunnel that lasted only a few days in 1966 before being destroyed by the authorities. Here’s a blurb about it:


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