Do you know what inspired the mural?
On the car radio in a parking lot off Edinger Avenue near Edwards Street, Rod Stewart is singing "Every Picture Tells a Story."
So it seemed fitting to investigate the history of a mural I've seen many times in the 11 years we've lived in Huntington Beach.
It covers a large wall facing the McDonald's that's next to George's (a good place for Mexican food). Have you seen it? It depicts all of the most iconic McDonald's characters, from Ronald to Grimace to the Hamburglar, all hanging out in Huntington Beach.
The detail of the mural always interested me because of how accurate little touches are, like the old wooden H.B. sign that used to be near the pier. Recently, I examined the signature in the painting's upper left border: "Danosians '92."
A bit of research revealed the following bio on Wikipedia: "Saeed Danosian (Born Nov. 1, 1954, Tehran, Iran) was a contemporary Iranian artist, scholar and philanthropist based in Orange County, Calif.
"He pursued a program in interior design at the Bel Art Academy in Rome in the mid-70s, and from 1979 to 1985 studied further at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, earning his baccalaureate degree in set design for the theater in 1983 and his master's degree in set design and art direction in 1985. In addition to his areas of major concentration, his studies included film and television, costume design, art history and music. He worked in the area of set design at both the Burgtheater and Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera).
"He died in Irvine, Calif., on Dec. 21, 2008, at the age of 54 from a sudden aortic dissection. He is buried in Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona del Mar, Calif."
Could this fascinating man have been the one who painted the mural? As it turned out, yes. Over the next several weeks, I was able to track down his wife, Yeganeh. I asked her about her husband, and her words were so eloquent and heartfelt that I'd like to present them here, essentially unedited.
After reading, them, you may never look at the mural the same way again. I know I won't.
"My husband and I studied in Vienna, Austria. In 1979, while he was an art student at the Vienna Art Academy, he started working at McDonald's as a manager. We were married very young and he had to support me and later my daughter, who was born in 1980. We decided to move to America after we graduated. We came straight to Orange County in 1987 from Vienna; our first language was Farsi and our second language was German, so we couldn't speak English well. With a master's degree in set design and art direction, he tried to find a job in his field, but he couldn't find anything, so because he had to support his family and he had experience from working as a manager in Vienna, he looked for a job with McDonald's Corp.
"Soon he found a management position at the Huntington Beach location while also teaching private art classes on the side. The owner learned about his background and how much he loved teaching kids about art, so when Saeed offered to create a painting on the wall for their young customers, they liked his sketch and they told him instead of working in the store, why don't you paint the mural? After that he created a number of murals around O.C., including at Mission San Juan Capistrano. At the time the mural was created, our daughter was 12 and she loved the Happy Meal toys at McDonald's. He wanted to bring Ronald McDonald and his gang to life — enjoying the landmarks of H.B. such as the boardwalk, the lifeguard tower, the well-known H.B. sign and, of course, the happy whale jumping out of the water in the background.
"Saeed, he was a very kindhearted person and a great human being, and I'm not saying this because he was my husband. At his funeral, which was held on Christmas Eve, there were hundreds of people present and numerous speeches given about how much Saeed had touched their lives. Irvine's (then) mayor, Beth Krom, said, 'He was always willing to give, with no expectations of getting anything in return.' He donated so much of his time and worked with so many nonprofit organizations. The last 10 years, he taught as a professor at Westwood College, and in 2008 (only six months before his death), he was selected as National Instructor of the Year. We have received so many letters from his students and their families saying how much Saeed changed their son's/daughter's life. My daughter and I are truly proud of him.
"He loved Huntington Beach and especially the young community that resided there. He was so good at connecting with the younger generation and always interacted with the kids who were biking and skateboarding around H.B.
"There are countless memories I have of my husband. Every day with him was a day of happiness, positivity and laughter. When he walked into a room, he brightened it with his smile and energy. He had the biggest heart. After his death, Westwood College dedicated their student commons area to him because of the difference he made in their school. He truly was one in a million. To come here with nothing and leave behind such a lasting impression on so many people is so amazing."
I thank Yeganeh for telling us the story of the mural and her husband. It always struck me as a piece of art that was created with much love and laughter. And obviously, it was.
To hear the story of its creation, by a man of deep talents and character, breathes new life into a fading picture — a unique portrait of our city tucked away on the side of a building.
Rod Stewart was right.