Two local icons of history and culture, the “Pastoral California” mural at Fullerton Union High School and the neon YMCA sign (visible from Harbor Blvd. near St. Jude Medical Center), received official local landmark status by a unanimous vote of Fullerton City Council on March 16.
The YMCA Neon Sign is located at 2000 Youth Way, and the “Pastoral California” mural is located at 201 East Chapman Ave. on the side of the high school auditorium. Two residential properties located at 1203 Luanne Avenue and 865 North Richman Avenue were also designated local landmarks.
The YMCA Sign
According to research provided by Fullerton Heritage, “The Mid-Century Modern YMCA building (constructed in 1962) and exterior neon sign were designed by notable local architect Charles Wickett. Located west of the building entrance overlooking Harbor Boulevard, the red, white and blue neon sign was produced and installed by the Nu-Art Neon Sign Company, established in Fullerton in 1946. The YMCA building was constructed by Leonard V. Bouas (1924-1993), a former Fullerton College star football player. The grounds were designed by notable local landscape architect Clark B. Lutschg.
“Pastoral California” Mural
Artist Charles Kassler was commissioned in 1934 under the Federal Works of Art Project (FWAP) to paint a mural on the exterior west wall of the auditorium of Fullerton Union High School. The mural reflects the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of the auditorium, and depicts California’s mission and rancho periods from 1776 to 1846 in a series of vignettes or montages—pictures of horses, cattle, Franciscan padres, vaqueros, fiestas, and women grinding corn and washing clothes.
The mural was the first major public art project in Fullerton and was the first of three New Deal murals installed in Fullerton during the Great Depression. It is the largest extant FWAP mural created by one person.
“Pastoral California” was dedicated on November 22, 1934, and received much praise from art critics.
However, on August 29, 1939, the High School Board of Trustees voted to paint over the mural. The minutes from the 1939 Trustees meeting do not give a reason. Thus, reasons for painting over the mural have been the cause of much speculation over the years, ranging from theories of underlying racism, to statements from trustees and community members in subsequent years that they found the style “lurid” or “grotesque.”
“It was too Mexican, that’s why,” Charles Hart, who was a student at the high school and remembers the mural before it was covered up, told the Los Angeles Times in 1997. “The school board didn’t want to leave the impression that this town was anything else but Anglos. Too extreme for them, I guess.”
In a 1972 interview, former Trustee Howard E. Hale, who voted to whitewash the mural, said that its location had made it a target of vandals, but also said, “I didn’t think much of the paintings to begin with. The people did not look like people. They were all distorted.”
Others have claimed that the buxomness of the women in the mural was thought to be in bad taste. Whatever the reason, the mural remained painted over for over half a century.
Then, in 1996, as a result of much community effort, the school district approved restoration of the mural with funding provided by the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency, the California Heritage Commission, and community donors. A rededication ceremony for the mural took place on September 6, 1997 with members of the Kassler family in attendance.
According to a report from Fullerton Heritage on the mural, “From the very beginning of the restoration, there was strong support from City government, the school district, and hundreds of members of the community. Momentum to see the project through was provided by business and civic leaders, school administrators, teachers, students, alumni, historians, preservationists, and local artists. Students who were enrolled when the mural was whitewashed in 1939, also came forward to assist with the restoration. The restoration symbolized the community’s commitment to the preservation of its historic resources.”
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