Valley News -

Park service denies protection to famed Corona mural


Last updated 3/5/2019 at 2:27pm

CORONA - A four-decade-old patriotic mural in Corona's Prado Dam does not meet the criteria for preservation as a national landmark defined by the National Park Service, federal officials announced on Tuesday, March 5.

The fate of the beloved Bicentennial Mural had been left in the hands of Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places Joy Beasley, who notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week that the park service could not identify a measure by which to categorize the mural as historically important.

"In our view, the mural is no longer able to convey its historic character or its potential significance as an exceptional representation of local Bicentennial activity," Beasley said in a statement released Tuesday. "The current massive over-painting, the loss of original paint through normal wear, and the addition of other non-historic graffiti have served to severely alter the mural's original design and commemorative intent."

Lacking a place on the park service's historic registry leaves the mural's future in doubt.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for the Prado Dam, previously ruled that the display does not qualify for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act.

Philip Usi, a member of the nonprofit Friends of the Prado Dam Mural, said in a social media post that there remains a sliver of hope that the "beautiful icon of the Inland Empire'' may not be doomed. He said mural supporters are waiting to see whether U.S. Department of Interior officials signed off on Beasley's determination.

In 2017, the Corps received more than 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 would be that the structure be at least 50 years old, and the mural falls short of that by a half-decade.

Officials further stated that the commemorative aspects of the mural 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.

"However important such milestones may be, historic monuments cannot be listed in the National Register of Historic Places for their association with ... events for which they were created,'' the government stated.

The Corps still has plans to dismantle the mural.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors, along with city councils in Corona, Eastvale and Norco, have passed resolutions urging restoration and preservation of the display. There has also been support from area congressmen.

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 signed an injunction barring any work at the site until all options for the mural's future were explored.

The Corps, which controls Prado Dam, issued findings in 2014 that the best way to proceed was to remove the dilapidated edifice, which is 106 feet tall and stretches 2,280 feet across. The deconstruction plan ran into stiff opposition from area activists, led by Ron Kammeyer, who helped create the mural, which the Corps argues poses a hazard due to lead paint decay in the spillway.

The mural, situated inside the flood control channel for the Santa Ana River, was painted in May 1976 to celebrate America's 200th birthday. More than 30 Corona High School students spent several weekends voluntarily working on the project.

When completed, the mural read "200 Years of Freedom,'' with a space depicting the Liberty Bell, followed by "1776-1976'' painted in red, white and blue.

Over the years, the display has suffered weather-related decay and graffiti vandalism, blotting out some of the original scheme, though it's still visible from portions of the Corona (71) Expressway and the Riverside (91) Freeway.

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