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L.A. MURALIST’S SECOND COVER STORY

Just six weeks after the defacement of the “Freeway Lady,” another Kent Twitchell mural has been painted over.

The recently obscured mural, which had graced the side of a one-story building at the corner of Fountain Avenue and Kingsley Drive in Hollywood for 16 years, depicted renowned Hollywood character actor Strother Martin, who died in 1980. Martin was perhaps best known for his role as the warden in the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke,” in which he uttered the famous line, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

“This doesn’t have the same significance as the covering over of the ‘Freeway Lady,’ ” said Twitchell, referring to the mural viewed by millions of Hollywood Freeway drivers for 12 years until an advertising company painted it over Nov. 30.

“This one (the Martin mural) was sort of experimental; I used materials I’ve since abandoned for better ones, and I painted it on asbestos siding, something I’d never do today.

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“But I do wish who ever did it would have at least contacted me. . . . I’ve gone back to the mural constantly through the years to repaint and retouch it.”

However, restoration of the Strother Martin mural, the second of about 20 murals Twitchell has painted throughout Los Angeles, may be in the offing.

Nisim Asulin, who said he will own the Martin mural building when he closes escrow on the property “some time next week,” said, “I’m very willing to help restore the mural, if that is possible.”

Asulin, who owns the D&N; Electrical Contractors of Los Angeles, said he had the mural painted over about 11 days ago to qualify for an insurance policy he said he needed to buy the building.

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“The building had been boarded up and it was a big mess, with a lot of broken glass around, and a lot of graffiti on the building and on the mural,” Asulin said.

(Twitchell also said he had recently seen graffiti on his 11-by-44-foot mural.)

“So the insurance company asked me to paint over the graffiti and the mural wall. I saw the mural when I saw the building for the first time, but I didn’t pay attention to it, especially with a lot of graffiti on it. I didn’t know who did the mural, that it had been there since 1971, or how good it was, if it was worth anything.”

Larry Christman, an insurance agent for the Truck Insurance Exchange of Los Angeles, said he told Asulin to “pick up the trash and wine bottles in the area” and that the “graphics” on the building would have to be painted over to qualify for a fire and vandalism policy, one he said which was standard for the purchase of commercial properties.

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“I don’t insure what would be a blighted area,” Christman said, “because that’s vandalism, we can’t cover that.”

Asulin said he has been renovating the mural building for about three weeks--during which time he had the mural painted over--to comply with Christman’s requests. But, he said, if he had known that the mural was of any value, he would have “tried to fight against the insurance.”

“Why didn’t the people who sold me the building put on the record that we should keep the mural?” Asulin said. “It’s a shame, it’s really a shame.”

Ben Freeman, from whom Asulin said he bought the building, could not be reached for comment. Freeman’s wife said her husband was in the hospital Monday, where he would be recovering from an undisclosed illness until the end of the week.

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Twitchell said the building was owned by Steve Clensos, a now-deceased Hollywood makeup man, when he painted the mural in 1971.

However, Asulin told The Times that he would be glad to speak to Twitchell about restoration.

“Isn’t that amazing,” said Twitchell when he was told Tuesday of Asulin’s willingness to help. “I’ll call him.”

Bill Lasarow, a spokesman for the new Los Angeles Mural Conservancy, said, “We’ll certainly contact (Asulin), verify that his intents are honorable, and make every effort to work with him to bring back the mural to its proper state.”

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Twitchell, who may still try to restore the “Freeway Lady” mural, said he believes the Martin mural could be restored. However, Twitchell said, because some of the mural’s original enamel was coming off before it was covered over, repainting the mural, rather than just removing the cover-up paint, might be a better idea.

He added that he does not intend to ask for payment to restore or repaint the mural, however.

“This seems like it was just a mistake, something done without malice. I’d probably just ask for volunteers to help me--and try to find time where there is no time.”

The recent defacement is another example of the vulnerability of the hundreds of murals in Los Angeles. The situation has not gone unnoticed, however.

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L.A. City Councilman Michael Woo plans to hold a 10:45 a.m. press conference Thursday in front of a mural at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox Avenue to announce plans for a city-sponsored effort to preserve and protect city murals.


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