Restoration Underway on Faded 80,000-Square-Foot Prado Dam Bicentennial Freedom Mural

The mural originally painted in 1976 has lost some of its luster over the decades.

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If you’ve ever driven on the 91 Freeway from Orange County to Riverside County, then you have definitely seen the nearly 80,000-square-foot bicentennial mural at Prado Dam.

Over the years it has lost its luster, but now it is being restored to its former glory. At the Prado Dam spillway, workers with One Way Painting are doing perhaps the biggest and most difficult job they've ever done.

"All of these guys had to get signed off on harness rope equipment and all that before we were able to get out here on the spillway,” said One Way Painting owner Jeff McCabe. "I was born in 1976. I was considered a bicentennial baby and I've always had a special place in my heart for the mural,” he said. 

The mural, originally painted in 1976, commemorated 200 years of freedom for the U.S., but over the decades it has faded and been vandalized, nothing close to the beauty it once held.

“And seeing it in that disrepair, it felt like somebody stomping on the flag,” Jim McCabe said. 

Jim, Jeff's brother, says that about ten years ago he decided to save the mural by helping form the Bicentennial Freedom Mural Conservancy.

The goal was to bring back the mural to its previous glory, which is easier said than done when you are trying to convince the Riverside County Flood Control and Army Corps of Engineers to sign off on it.

“So you got the colonel and colonel changes post every few years, so very few years we had to start from scratch, just a lot of red tape,” Jim McCabe said.  

After finally getting approval, they needed $140,000 from sponsors to repaint it, which turned out to be no problem.

“And there was actually people like fighting over letters and fighting over the bell, and there was like an auction and people saying. 'I really want that one. I'll pay extra,'” Jim McCabe said.

In 1976, Perry Schaefer and his Corona high school classmate Ron Kammeyer designed the mural, winning a senior class project. Schaefer said he and Kammeyer designed the mural to look like a bumper sticker.

They also helped paint it.

"With no safety ropes, no training, none of the things required now, and I can't believe we accomplished what we did. Things were a little different back in the 70's, yeah,” Schaefer said. 

Now these professional painters are doing the work, but not for a profit. Instead, they're doing it at cost.

Jim McCabe said this isn't only about restoring a landmark; it's about sparking conversations with children, to talk about the many sacrifices made for the country's freedom and why we should all be grateful to live in the U.S.

“So if you're going down the freeway, tell your kids, 'Put your phone down, look,’ and have those conversations because it's a lost generation that needs to appreciate this,” Jeff McCabe said. 

The mural should be finished in the next seven to ten days.

"Our country is not perfect, just like the Liberty Bell. We have maybe have a long way to go, but there's a goal and there's a symbol that we all want to work toward, and we're all in this together,” Schaefer said. 

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