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Santa Monica Activists Relaunch Campaign to Save "Muir Woods" Mural

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By Jorge Casuso

October 2, 2019 -- Five years after Santa Monica activists launched a campaign to save the "Muir Woods" mural at the former site of Olympic High School, the School Board could try once again this month to erase it.

The Board moved the item scheduled for Thursday's meeting in Malibu back two weeks so it could be heard in Santa Monica, where the leafy mural has stood at a prominent intersection in Ocean Park.

"Muir Woods" mural by Jane Golden
"Muir Woods" mural by Jane Golden (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

Supporters of the mural were surprised to learn the Board was poised to vote to paint over the mural of a redwood forest created four decades ago by renown public artist Jane Golden.

On Wednesday, leaders of the Save the Muir Woods Mural campaign met with Schools Superintendent Ben Drati and had a productive meeting, said local activist Jerry Rubin, who launched the first campaign in 2014.

"We told him this is more of a win-win solution for everyone to save and completely recreate the mural," Rubin said. "We have people willing to help with that."

Rubin, who led the successful effort to save the "Chain Reaction" sculpture at the Civic Center, said the District estimates it would cost about $100,000 to completely refurbish the "Muir Woods" mural.

In its report to the Board, District staff said the mural that covers two exterior walls at the corner of Ocean Park and Lincoln boulevards has "eroded over time."

"The lead paint has peeled, contaminated the planter, and risks going into the storm water system out to the ocean," staff wrote.

"To address the lead paint, the district scraped the flaking paint and painted over it with a clear coat," staff said. "The result is an unsightly set of walls on a prominent corner of the facility."

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In addition, the identity of the school -- and its name -- has changed twice since Golden painted the mural in 1978 on what was then John Muir Elementary School, staff said.

After the elementary school moved from the site more than two decades ago, the school's name was changed to Olympic High School and, earlier this year, to the Michelle and Barack Obama Center for Inquiry and Exploration.

"The school site and identity are changing," staff said. "As part of this transition process, it is necessary to re-brand the look and feel of the campus to better represent its students, staff, and programs."

A similar argument was made five years ago when former Olympic High principal Janie Gates announced the removal of the mural she said no longer reflected the school or the city.

“We’re not in Northern California where the Muir forest is,” Gates said. “We’re down in a beach community, so we’re working a local effort using local artists.”

Supporters disagreed. They held a vigil and circulated a petition to save the work ("Santa Monica Activists Plan Vigil for Mural," August 12, 2014).

Golden, who moved to Philadelphia more than 30 years ago to head the city's prestigious mural program, issued a statement then that is echoed by supporters today.

“Murals take on a purpose far beyond beautification; they become catalysts for positive social change, inspiring many other actions around education, public safety, community and economic development,” Golden said.

The "Muir Woods" mural, she said, "was also always meant to be a powerful reminder of John Muir and the legacy he left, inspiring us all to think about how much we need to be stewards of our land and guardians of the future.”

Rubin and his wife, Marissa, who hold an annual tree-hugging event in Santa Monica every year, are once again rallying the troops.

The petition they began circulating five years ago bears the signatures of "many current and formerly elected officials, artists, environmentalists, Santa Monica Commission and Task Force members, community leaders, educators and the Sierra Club, etc., etc.," Rubin wrote in an email alert this week.

(A partial list can be viewed at

"We have people willing to pitch in," Rubin said. "You can tie the whole history of this in a positive way."

The School Board will take up the issue at its meeting October 17.

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