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Saving the Historic Caliente Murals
Fallacious Report Sent Back to Applicant
May 2016
By A. Hayes

About 30 activists supporting designation of the prominent downtown Agua Caliente mural made their presence felt at the Historical Resources Board on April 28, in addition to the 582 supporters who signed the second "Save the Historic Caliente Mural" petition. A dozen of those present explained the trifecta of historic significance these three murals on the California Theatre's exterior walls represent to San Diego and Tijuana. The focus was on the 40' x 80' Agua Caliente mural, which has urged generations of San Diegans, since Prohibition, to cross the border and enjoy racing at the Tijuana track. A well established entertainment district for San Diegans and its visitors, Agua Caliente was not only frequented by Hollywood royalty, but starlets such as Rita Hayworth were actually discovered there. A second mural advertises dog racing at Agua Caliente and a third is for the Barbary Coast Tavern that was housed in the theater building.

Rallied by SOHO, with instrumental support from the bi-national journalist Enrique Limon, who created both petitions, the community argued the theater owner's report by AECOM presents false information, a deficient analysis of significance, and doesn't include important topics such as the Latinos National Register context statement and San Diego tourism. The report and HRB staff concluded that the murals do not meet any of the board's five criteria for designation.

But during the meeting, HRB chairman John Lemmo called the report "inadequate" and cited inconsistencies. The Board members heard the loud outcry from the community because they sent the report back to the applicant to address San Diego's relationship to Tijuana during the 1950s-1960s, when the murals were painted, to establish the relationship and atmosphere of the cross-border culture and economic benefits. Board member Abel Silvas suggested the murals might meet Criteria E, eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, due to their bi-national importance.

In addition, since the report erroneously states the artist is unknown and the pounce pattern technique dates back to the 1940s, the board asked for more information on the painter Jose Jesus Moreno, who painted the flowers inside the monumental horseshoe-shaped C in "Caliente," as well as the use and development of the pounce pattern technique, which dates to the Renaissance. They also want to review historic photographs of the deteriorated murals. The amended report is scheduled for review at the board's June 23 meeting.

SOHO thanks everyone who is responding to our Preservation Action Alert, who signed the petition, and came to the hearing. If you haven't yet emailed your city officials or signed the petition, please do using the links above and mark your calendars for June 23!

Los Cruzadores to Old Mexico
Ride to Save the Historic Caliente Mural!

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