Wayne Healy, “Ghosts of El Barrio” (1974) (via Laurie Avocado/Flickr)
In a move that will officially recognize important landmarks in the longstanding tradition of Chicanx cultural heritage Los Angeles, last week LA city council approved the inclusion of two neighborhood arts institutions in the city’s list of historic-cultural monuments. Founded in 1969, Mechicano Art Center was a trailblazing Chicanx arts organization in Los Angeles, in an effort led by community organizer Victor Franco to establish the center in the La Cienega arts district; in 1970, it moved to East Los Angeles, and in 1975 to Highland Park). The Centro de Arte Publico was founded in 1977 in Highland Park by Carlos Almaraz, Guillermo Bejarano, and Richard Duardo. Both institutions were pivotal gathering points for Chicanx artists and fostered mural projects, exhibitions, and cultural gatherings to celebrate Dia de los Muertos and other Mexican holidays.
The Highland Park Heritage Trust nominated the two buildings for the historic landmark register, saying that they “served as pivotal centers for Latino creativity and community in LA during the 1960s and 1970s and which currently face the threat of erasure by rapidly expanding community development,” according to reporting by the Los Angeles Daily News. It seemed that many were in agreement, as the city council vote came Tuesday, August 24, following endorsements by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission and the City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee. These two join some 1,200 locations designated on the city’s Historic-Cultural Monument list, including residences, churches, studios, gardens, and businesses with historical significance to the city. Being designated a cultural monument offers protection to buildings that might otherwise be slated for redevelopment efforts that erase the communities that built neighborhoods like Highland Park. Furthermore, fewer than 10% of historic institutions in the nation are associated with communities of color — a radical shortfall considering the demographics of our country, let alone a place like Los Angeles, which is 48.6% Hispanic or Latino, according to the US Census Bureau (and, historically, part of Mexico).
By the time Mechicano closed in 1978 it had helped support a burgeoning Chicana feminist art movement, as well as the individual careers of artists, including Judithe Hernandez, Sonya Fe and Isabel Castro, Lucila Grijalva, and Linda Vallejo. Its final exhibition was for Dia de los Muertos in November 1977, which included artists Carlos Almaraz, Roberto Chavez, Leo Limon, Harry Gamboa, and John Valadez, among others. Centro de Arte Publico closed in the late ’70s as well, but not before spring-boarding members of its influential collective, Los Four (later expanded to include Judithe Hernandez as a fifth member) to international acclaim.
“Mechicano Arts Center and Centro de Arte Publico are two of many significant cultural institutions in our city reflecting the cultural history of Latinos and Latinas,” said Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents the neighborhood, in a statement quoted in the Los Angeles Daily News.
“I thank the council for designating these sites as Historic-Cultural,” he continued. “I salute the many artists involved with these institutions including Judithe Hernandez, George Yepes, Barbara Carrasco, Frank Romero, John Valadez, Leo Limon, Dolores Guerrero Cruz, Victor Vaya, Robert Delgado, Gilbert ‘Magu’ Lujan, Wayne Healy, and Nicandro ‘Gronk’ Glugio. They are cultural heroes.”