David Alfaro Siqueiros’ mural "América Tropical" was so controversial when it was first painted that it was covered with whitewash. Now, it has been restored and on Tuesday, that restoration was unveiled to the public. Toni Guinyard reports from Downtown Los Angeles for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 9, 2012.
One of LA's most famous murals, originally considered so controversial that officials painted over it with whitewash, has been fully restored and was unveiled Tuesday on Olvera Street downtown.
América Tropical, painted in 1932 by David Alfaro Siqueiros and considered his greatest work, has a long and troubled past, including initial outrage at its shocking visual imagery.
It depicts a brown-skinned man crucified under a massive eagle. City officials considered the mural so offensive at the time that they ordered it covered over.
The mural made its comeback Tuesday after a nearly $10 million restoration project funded by the City of Los Angeles and the Getty Conservation Institute. A cultural center devoted to the mural's history and Siqueiros' work also opened after a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
This isn't the first time the mural has burst onto the scene in Los Angeles.
In the 1970s, the whitewash started to fall off, said Isabel Rojas Williams, executive director of the Mural Conservancy of LA.
Special Section: Hispanic Heritage Month
"The mural began to reappear on the wall, like a vision, like an 'aparición' as we say in Spanish, which also the Chicanos took as a sign for them to look for their roots," Rojas Williams said.
Rojas Williams believes Siqueiros' mural and the questions it raised were inspirations for the LA's Chicano art movement: "He was the one who inspired Chicanos to look for their roots, to fight for the worker and depict social justice."
Siqueiros was inspired by what he had seen in Los Angeles during the Great Depression -- a community that was far cry from the idyllic oasis that many believed it to be.
"This city was not a Tropical America," said Rojas Williams. "There were deportations happening, many people of Mexican descent who were born here were deported from here."
Although the left and right sides of the mural feature rainforests and Mayan pyramids painted by Siqueiros, he left the final part of the mural unpainted until the night he chose to unveil it, seemingly in expectation of the reactions he knew it would elicit.
"He came here in the middle of the night and painted the centerpiece," said Rojas Williams.
That image was front and center on Tuesday, as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and J. Paul Getty Trust President and CEO James Cuno cut a ceremonial ribbon at the center.
The Getty committed $3.95 million toward the América Tropical restoration effort, with an additional $6 million coming from the City of Los Angeles.
At the accompanying cultural center, visitors will be able to learn more about the mural through exhibits featuring in-depth explorations of its past and the techniques used to create it, as well as of the conservation process and the artistic legacy of its creator.
The mural will also have several brand-new layers of protection, including a canopy that spans the south wall of the Italian Hall, with sun shades on each side to prevent it from being directly exposed to sun and rain.
América Tropical's original painting in 1932, and its reappearance in the '70s, inspired hundreds of other murals in the Los Angeles area.
Today, artists across the region are working to restore the old murals -- and create new ones.
Willy Herron, an artist working to help restore a set of murals on the walls along the 101 Freeway downtown, names Siqueiros as one of his strongest inspirations.
Herron has been dedicated to ensuring murals like América Tropical survive.
"They create the face of the diversity," Herron said. "The Black murals, the Chicano murals, the Asian murals are all important because they make up what this city is all about."