This is kind of convoluted and roundabout, but on my Flickr stream I posted a blurry snap I took last Sunday of a section of the famed L.A. muralist Kent Twitchell’s L.A. Marathon mural, which was originally painted on the 405 Freeway near Century Boulevard but late last year was relocated to the 5 Freeway near Stadium Way.

Later on I was surprised to find a fellow Flickr’er named Vidalia had posted a comment to the posted image calling the mural “ugly and dated.” Now if you know me you know I’m one of those naive types who strive to seek beauty in everthing and thus I see magnificence in things like hissing cockroaches and potato bugs and some republicans and old nails and vast tracts of unspoiled desert. On top of that I have a marked aversion against what I feel is the erroneous go-to use of the word “ugly.”

Not that there isn’t any ugly out there. There’s plenty. The devastation in Beirut, the genocide in Darfur, 9/11, the horror of Iraq, the phonecam video footage of Saddam Hussein’s execution, pretty much any decision Duhbya makes or any pompous tabloid TV program such as “Access Hollywood” and “The Insider.”

So to beat the dead horse, I’m not gonna gag if you don’t like what I like. I’m just gonna do so if your default descriptive is to call something ugly. Ugly is territorial gang tags. Ugly is skinheads. Ugly is rotting meat. Ugly is unchecked greenhouse gas emissions. Ugly is a shotgun blast to the head.

Twitchell’s marathon mural certainly is not my most favorite of his vast number of murals around town… and perhaps even dated. But not ugly. And thus I commented back telling Vidalia I didn’t think so. I also said that I had a long-term appreciation of Twitchell’s works and that I was happy to see this one salvaged in the wake of so many that had been unceremoniously destroyed.

And then she came back with “how she doesn’t want to argue with me” and posts an example of a mural she considers beautiful — and it certainly was — but it was a stylized romanticized illustration that I wrote back saying comparing the two was an apples-and-oranges thing

A n y w a y. . . the point of writing about this exchange was that it got me thinking about Twitchell’s long-lost Freeway Lady who I grew up with, and his most recently lost downtown mural of the artist Ed Ruscha, and the one I discovered gone last fall, his Steve McQueen Monument painted on a structure at Union near 12th.

I first wrote about finding it painted over back in September. Afterward I contacted the L.A. Murals organiztion in an attempt to get some info as to when and why it was destroyed but got no reply.

So today after this exchange with Vidalia I googled Kent Twitchell and found his wiki page, in which I modified the now-outdated information about the location of the L.A. Marathon mural and the still-existing status of the Steve McQueen portrait. Then I found and his email link so I decided to go straight to the source:

Dear Mr. Twitchell,

The first and only time I saw your wonderful Steve McQueen mural was in 1995 while participating in the inaugural L.A. Marathon Bike Tour whose course that year took us down Union Street where it was near 12th Street.

I’d long since mentally misplaced it as to being on Hoover, but finally in the fall of last year I went searching for it and found the location only to be dismayed that it had been painted over. I searched the internet as well as local L.A. mural resources for information as to when it might have been destroyed but could find none (in fact most maintain it still stands). So hopefully I’m not bothering you too much or bearing any previously unknown bad news in asking if you might know when and why it was obliterated and/or if it might have been protected beforehand.

Will Campbell

Much to my surprise came his rapid response:


Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I also was partial
to The Steve McQueen Monument. It was my first LA
mural, in 1971. I went back during 1980 and fixed it
up, retouching it with acrylic artists paints (it had
been originally painted with cheap enamel oil based)
and it would have lasted for many years. The original
people in the house sold it to some people from Korea.
They did not know they were supposed to contact me
before painting it out. Someone would have been able
to explain the situation to them had we known. I think
it was during the mid ’90s. It did not have the
protective coatings over it that I use now. I painted
gloss medium & varnish all my murals until recently.
It does allow removal of overpaint but it would
possibly be easier to repaint than to remove the
overpaint on that one since it was not nearly as
detailed as my subsequent murals.

There was a great character actor with your name
during the 50s. I actually still have a photo of him.
He was in Elvis’ first movie and a LOT of other
movies. One of the best.

Anyway, thanks for your interest. I wish I had better