The Great Wall Explained
The Great Wall of Los Angeles is one of Los Angeles’ true cultural landmarks and one of the country’s most respected and largest monuments to inter-racial harmony. SPARC’s first public art project and its true signature piece, the Great Wall is a landmark pictorial representation of the history of ethnic peoples of California from prehistoric times to the 1950’s, conceived by SPARC’S artistic director and founder Judith F. Baca. Begun in 1974 and completed over five summers, the Great Wall employed over 400 youth and their families from diverse social and economic backgrounds working with artists, oral historians, ethnologists, scholars, and hundreds of community members.
Its half-mile length (2,754 ft) in the Tujunga Flood Control Channel of the San Fernando Valley with accompanying park and bike trail hosts thousands of visitors every year, providing a vibrant and lasting tribute to the working people of California who have truly shaped its history. In 2000 and 2001 SPARC received acknowledgement and support from the distinguished Ford Foundation Animating Democracy: The Role of Civic Dialogue in the Arts initiative and from the Rockefeller Foundation Partnerships Affirming Community Transformation initiative. As well a $90,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, in 2013, to continue work on the Great Wall; to hold civic dialogue sessions and ultimately design the remaining four decades of the century (1960s-1990s).
The mural’s restoration, a critical need, and continuation with future panels produced by the next generation of children of the Great wall remains a vital on going program of SPARC. We are currently initiating a major fundraising campaign to restore, extend and create a full use park at the Great Wall thereby establishing the site as an international educational and cultural destination.
A Personal Message from Judy Baca
”In 1975 when the Great Wall was still a dream, I never imagined it would lead me, the more than 400 young “Mural Makers” and the 35 other artists on my team through such a moving set of experiences. Nor could I have imagined that 27years from the date the first paint was applied to the wall that it would still be a work in progress.
When I first saw the wall, I envisioned a long narrative of another history of California; one which included ethnic peoples, women and minorities who were so invisible in conventional text book accounts. The discovery of the history of California’s multi‑cultured peoples was a revelation to me as well as to the members of my teams. We learned each new decade of history in summer installments; the 20′s in 1978, the 30′s in 1980, the 40′s in 1981, and the 50′s in 1983. Each year our visions expanded as the images traveled down the wall. While our sense of our individual families’ places in history took form, we became family to one another. Working toward the achievement of a difficult common goal shifted our understandings of each other and most importantly of ourselves.
I designed this project as an artist concerned not only with the physical aesthetic considerations of a space, but the social, environmental and cultural issues affecting the site as well. I am not a social worker, though people mistakenly call me one and I am not a teacher although I have teaching skills. I draw on skills not normally used by artists. I’ve learned as much as I’ve taught from the youth I’ve had the good fortune to know by working alongside of them. They’ve taught me among other things how to laugh at myself, how to put play into hard work, and how not to be afraid to believe in something. I am extremely grateful.
Perhaps most overwhelming to me about the Great Wall experience has been learning of the courage of individuals in history who endured, spoke out, and overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It was true both of the people we painted about and of ourselves the Mural Makers.”
- Judith F. Baca
Message from UCLA Professor Judy Baca
Creator of the Great Wall of Los Angeles and SPARC’s Founder/Artistic Director
“The restoration of the Great Wall of Los Angeles is a massive undertaking. Every segment of the 2,750ft is cleaned, examined and treated to bring it back to its original state of brilliant color. Within the three-month dry season in the Los Angeles River the work must be completed racing against a clock that is determined by the difficult conditions of heat, water flow, rain and other factors of the unique site in the Los Angeles flood control channel. The site channels the main water flow through the San Fernando Valley to the ocean and becomes extremely perilous in a rain storm so weather watches and evacuation methods are a constant worry for the 30 members of the restoration team composed of professional muralist, interns from universities around the country, local volunteers and past participants of the Great Wall productions.”
SPARC IN THE NEWS LINKS
Special thank you to: CCHE, SMMC, City of LA, County of LA and Prudential Social Investments.
Interpretive “Green” Bridge Proposed
Begun in 1976 and completed over five summers, the Great Wall employed over 400 youth and their families from diverse, social and economic backgrounds working with artists, oral historians, ethnologists, scholars, and hundreds of community members. “The Great Wall” is painted on the concrete retaining wall of the Tujunga Wash in the San Fernando Valley. In addition to restoring the mural between 2009-2011, SPARC will also be constructing a new solar-lit “green” bridge with interpretive stations, and constructing five additional stations along the wall to provide access to the historical content of the mural.
Judy Baca and SPARC have collaborated with wHY Architecture to complete the designs for the “Green Bridge” which will be solar lit and composed in part from the debris of the Los Angeles River with interpretive panels along the expanse of the Bridge from which the public can view the River and the ½ mile of mural along its banks. A site plan, elevations for the bridge, materials, budget, schedule of construction have been completed for the bridge. A full model of the bridge has been built reviewed by County and City department representatives. The new Great Wall Interpretive “Green” Bridge will replace the former bridge which crossed the Tujunga Wash Flood control Channel between Miranda Street and Hatteras Street on the west side of Coldwater Canyon Blvd. The new bridge will function not only as a point to cross the Tujunga wash but also as a viewing station and interpretive center to view the Great Wall of Los Angeles mural and the Los Angeles River.
The structure of the bridge will consist of prefabricated built-up plate steel girders, steel framing and new poured concrete footings. The finishing material will consist of prefabricated textured fiberglass concrete panels on the sides of the footbridge and canopy, and composite plastic impregnated wood decking on walk able surfaces. End panels will be troweled stone face plaster over steel framing with guardrails constructed of powder-coated steel for durability. The look will be one of layered sediment with broken glass, and other plastic debris common to the river. The roof of the canopy will consist of aluminum framed, clear glass panels with thin film photovoltaic strips. Photovoltaic cells will collect solar energy and distribute back to the department of water and power, monitored by PV meters. On the underside of the canopy will be a clear skylight finished with two layers of laminated polycarbonate panels with images of the River and the Great Wall silk screened on film and sandwiched between them. Light will filter through this skylight during the day illuminating the images. The total impact of the bridge will be that it will be an instructional site about the river and the history of the diverse people of Los Angeles while it reconnects the two sides of the channel.
Purposed designs the 1960s extension segment to the Great Wall of Los Angeles
Please click image below for presentation on designs
Videos and Fly Through of The Great Wall in LA
Great Wall Testimonials
On the last day of the 1983 summer project, each of the Mural Makers sat down to write about his/her experiences of working on the mural. The following are excerpts from their thoughts.
This was definitely not a waste of my time. I feel I have accomplished something very worthwhile. I have educated myself and with the work I have done I will help to educate countless others, I have never been involved with the creating of a landmark before, but if I had a choice of any the mural is the one I would choose. The fact that this mural is recognized internationally is very exciting and has fulfilled my dream of doing something with international impact. I’m not just a Mural Maker, I’m a history maker and proud of the history on the wall I got the chance to show.
-Kelly Watts, age 19
Third summer on the project.
If I can come back next year I would come back right away. I have a lot of feelings that I can’t explain on paper. All I can say is I wish everybody the best of luck in the future and I wish Judy all the success that she needs to continue.
-Robert Martinez, age 18
Third summer on the project.
It’s been great working at the Great Wall and having a large family of forty. I bet you can’t top that I’ve learned to get along with people of all colors and the responsibility of doing for myself. I would do it again. But it was not all fun and play. It takes time to get things all together. But still in all, the best part is getting to the end and looking back at what you helped do.
-Rena Robinson, age 17
First summer on the project.
In today’s society where there’s not many constructive and positive activities or happenings, this mural is a very positive thing. Where else can kids from all kinds of cultural backgrounds come together and work towards a goal. I have found this experience to be very rewarding and got a lot out of it. The work was very hard at times but the finishing product was well worth the effort, you know, the end justifying the means. There were times when I had my bad days but mostly they were great. I’m very proud that I worked on the mural this year and if there’s any way possible I would more than happily come back next year. It got to the point where I didn’t care if I was getting paid or not, but the pay was nice to get for it. It’s kind of neat knowing that you’re becoming part of history and that it’s a community project that people will appreciate.
-Michelle Russell, age 21
First summer on the project.
To me the mural means a piece of art, it means workmanship among others, it means a part of ourselves, also making new friends, doing a good job and having lots of fun.
-Alex Alvarez, age 14
First summer on the project.
There’s one way to describe our worksite of people and that is we are one Big Family and I hope when the public comes to admire our mural they’ll share the magic and emotion that our crew shared with one another.
-Nancy Jane Avila, age 17
First summer on the project.
This was my second year on the mural, but it was a completely new experience. The group feeling was tremendous, stronger and sooner than two years ago. This year had obstacles that weren’t present previously, and this unity kept us going, because we were so proud of our unity that the idea of giving up after the flood, and splitting the crew, was inconceivable. After my first year on the mural, I left with a sense of who I was and what I could do that was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. The feeling came from encountering people of different backgrounds and outlooks, and confronting history from new perspectives, and seeing what I was personally capable of at a time in my life when my self‑confidence had been extremely low. This year was different largely because I had been changed by my earlier experience with the mural. The feelings of identity and pride came in new ways. Because of the unity we shared, I feel now that everything on the mural is my history, in a deeper way than I think I felt before.
-Todd Ableser, age 18
Second summer on the project.
Being a crew leader and all, it gave me responsibility and an incentive to perform the desired duties to its full extent. It was hard to ask a friend to do a difficult job but in time everything fell into place. I want this mural to continue forever. I hope we paint in the summer of 1984 and every year after. I was a born surfer and I gave up the beach for the project and I will always be dedicated.
Marc Meisels, age 18
This year has definitely been a year to remember, with the accident of the weather and the media. But in the end we pulled through. Everyone now seems to know the spirit of unity: sharing, caring and working it out.
Esther Martinez, age 19
Third summer on the project
The mural project is composed of a group of young people working toward one mutual goal: the completion of a work of art from which will come an in‑depth look to the drama and importance of many great persons who have worked toward the banishment of racial injustice, discrimination, and human struggle. These are goals that we, as Mural Makers see daily working on the mural. There is a feeling of camaraderie and friendship among the persons. Out of this bond shall be initiated another strong addition to the Great Wall.
Glenn Cho, age 16
First summer on the project
When I started working here I did it for the money, then I began to take great pride in the mural and in the Chicano section in particular. At first I didn’t think an assortment of races could work together because in my neighborhood there is primarily one race. This project made me realize that the prejudices I had inside me were not only false but also ignorant. I only wish all mankind could have gone through this experience with me. I regret that when I leave here my new attitude will change back to before. I hope that when people see this mural they forget all their prejudices and try to live with all people, no matter what race, in peace.
Sergio Moreno, age 16
First summer on the project
Patrick W., Los Angeles, CA
This is one of the coolest things I discovered when I moved to Los Angeles. It really makes you respect how LA as a community values art and history to create such an awesome collaborative work of diverse artists that tells the story of America from the beginning of time to the late 1970′s. It made me think damn I made the right decision to move to LA from Texas.
This wall is amazing because the art is really well done, it’s a mural so each scene segues into the next scene smoothly and gracefully, and it teaches an interesting history lesson that makes you feel like you’re really learning something without trying. So it’s knowledge without effort, which is always best!
The wall ends thematically at the late 1970′s. It’s time to bring the Great Wall of LA up to date! Artists, ready your paintbrushes. Philanthropists, get out your moneypurses and let’s make more history!
Christine A., Cerritos, CA
Back when I was taking my California Cultures class at CSUF, my professor would frequently reference the Great Wall of Los Angeles in his teachings since this extensive mural covers so many points in history — especially those that high schools here tend to skip over.
Need proof? While Lee A. and I walked along the fence, a group of teenagers (looked to be about seniors in high school) were heading in the opposite direction, toward us. As we were neared each other, Lee and I could hear them addressing the Manzanar section of the mural. Of the six of them, only one knew what it was about and started to explain the Japanese internment as best she could while the others listened with shocked expressions.
The mural has the expected historic milestones (the Chumash, Spanish conquest and the missions, the Gold Rush, the world wars, the citrus industry, Hollywood, etc). But it also includes the assimilation of American Indians, the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the Beats, the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, the division of the barrios and Chavez Ravine, white flight, the roles of women during the wars, the deportation of half a million Mexican Americans during the 1930s, Israel refugees, and as mentioned Manzanar and the “Go For Broke” Fighting 442nd.
I mean, so quickly people forget how others were dragged out of their homes, which were bulldozed behind them, and Dodger Stadium was built on the land.
The recent restoration is GLORIOUS. The mural is no longer peeling and the colors are so solid and vibrant. There’s so much to learn from the mural as each moment in history melts into the next.
It’s viewable from the park above the flood control wash. Best to park near Coldwater Canyon Ave and Burbank Blvd, where the mural begin (If you see a prehistoric ground sloth sticking its tongue out at the rest of the mural, you’re in good shape), and walk along the fence, parallel to Coldwater Canyon, toward Oxnard Street.
Patricia D., Los Angeles, CA
Often I get a little envious that most of the historical landmarks that have set identity to this country are found around the East Coast. After my visit to The Great Wall of LA, that envy is no more!
Outside of the cookie cutter history books that are written from one perspective, The Great Wall involved a diverse group of young individuals with their families working with historians, artists and academicians to give an accurate and personal presentation of California/Los Angeles history!
It cost nothing but a drive to Valley Glen College to enjoy this amazing mural! Not only is there art to be enjoyed but there is a belt of grass along with a pathway around the mural that is great for a little power walk! ha ha Parking is easily available and there is plenty of shade, perhaps in a warm day!
This is a definite treasure of LA. The issues and events that are depicted in the panels are some that are still being fought about in the present time! It is an indescribable feeling learning more that LA is not just a place of aesthetics and money! It is a place of progression and enriching cultures!
You will not regret your visit!
The Great Wall of Los Angeles is located in the Tujunga Wash Flood Control Channel (LA River) in the San Fernando Valley – Studio City / Valley Glen.
Near LA Valley College and Grant High School
North of the Ventura Freeway (101), between the 405 and 170.
From the 101, Exit on Coldwater Canyon Ave. and head North.
The Great Wall is on Coldwater Canyon Avenue between Burbank Blvd. and Oxnard St.
Park along the street and walk the 1/2 mile mural and enjoy!
Welcome to our Great Wall Interactive Page!
The Great Wall production has always been a collaborative project. The first step has always been to create compelling metaphors and interpretations of the American History and particularly the California History. After the proposal of various concepts and proposals, the final draft has been extracted and used to start the next section of the mural.
Please review our past interactive submissions and get inspired.
1. What is a metaphor that, for you, defines one of the last four decades of the 20th century?
2. What is an art work from one of the last four decades that symbolizes for you the spirit of that time?
From Serg Hernandez
Anonymous from Stanford University:
From S.A. Beckman
From the Community Arts Center in Los Angeles
First of all – great idea!! Keep it up SPARC !!!!
What also comes to mind are cultural incidents that have come to define our Americanism: Rodney King, the dragging and decapitating of an African-American man, the killing of Andrew Sheppard, and MTV.