I wrote about a mural in this column two years ago. It covered a large liquor store wall facing the McDonald's near the intersection of Edinger Avenue and Edwards Street, and it depicted all the most iconic McDonald's characters, from Ronald to Grimace to the Hamburglar, all hanging out in Huntington Beach.
As I described back then, the detail of the mural interested me because of how accurate the little touches were, like the old wooden H.B. sign that used to be near the pier. After seeing an artist signature, "Danosians '92," I did some research.
Saeed Danosian was born in Iran in 1954. He was an artist, scholar and philanthropist who died in Irvine in 2008 at the age of 54 from a sudden aortic dissection.
I tracked down Yeganeh, his wife, who painted an incredible picture of her beloved husband. She told me how he had studied in Vienna, and that in 1979, while an art student at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, he started working at McDonald's as a manager. They were married, had a daughter and moved to Orange County in 1987. He had a master's degree in set design and art direction but could not find a job, so to support his family, he looked for a job with McDonald's Corp.
Danosian worked at the Huntington Beach McDonald's location while teaching private art classes on the side. The restaurant owner learned about his background and how much he loved teaching kids about art, so when Danosian offered to create a painting on the wall for their young customers, the owner asked him to paint a mural instead. And so he did. He also painted other murals around O.C., including one at Mission San Juan Capistrano.
As Yeganeh told me back then, "Saeed, he was a very kindhearted person and a great human being. 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.'"
Yeganeh continued, "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."
After his death, Westwood College dedicated its student commons area to him because of the difference he made in the school.
Danosian loved Huntington Beach, and many of us loved his mural. Recently, the McDonald's was remodeled. One morning last month, I noticed a sizable part of the mural was painted over with a beige patch. Were they just protecting it? I asked inside the liquor store, but they didn't know. Then, last week, the day the restaurant reopened, the mural was completely gone, all painted over. It was like losing a friend.
So what happened?
I called John Patterson, who has been the operation supervisor at the restaurant since 1992. He said that last month, during the renovation, the mural had been badly vandalized. "We were heartbroken when we came in the next morning and saw this," he told me. "In 20 years, we had never had any graffiti vandals touch the mural."
That's what prompted the first patch. He said the mural was finally painted over because it could not have been saved. It was merely put out of its misery. However, Patterson said he hopes they can create a community project to recreate the original. "I worked here with Saeed," he told me. "He was running shifts while he painted it. Then he came and touched it up later on. He was a very special and talented man. We want to recreate his legacy somehow on that wall. His work deserved better than what happened."
As for the vandals, you can see from the photo Patterson took that it was a group of vegans making a "statement." Never mind that their statement was at the expense of everyone else, that it ruined a precious piece of art and that it was flat-out vicious. Not to condemn all vegans, of course, but the militant fringe within any group needs to be called out for what it usually is: gutless, fly-by-night cowards.
I saw similar cowardice this election season, with the surgical cutting out of messages from many signs posted in people's front yards and on street corners. Through their own militant, Orwellian lenses, members of the fringe often believe their voices supersede all, public or private property be damned. If they disagree with your message, rather than reason, they destroy it. Case in point: this destruction.
I contacted Yeganeh to let her know what they had done to her husband's work. She was upset, but is hopeful that it can be redone.
In the meantime, to the vegan vandals that did this, trust me, I'm not loving you at all right now.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County" from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.