A movable street scene

Times Staff Writer

A once-vibrant work of public art obscured by grime and graffiti is the focus of a "restoration" of sorts by the Petersen Automotive Museum and SPARC, the Social and Public Art Resource Center.

"Los Angeles: The Living City," a damaged 16-by-94-foot mural outside H&K; Supermarket on Western Avenue, can be seen as it was with the installation of a one-third-scale, digital photographic reproduction in the Petersen's May Family Discovery Center. The Petersen installed a copy of the mural, created by Sandra Drinning in 1997, to highlight L.A.'s relationship with cars, culture and history.

But taggers have taken a toll on Drinning's quirky vista of L.A. freeways and landmarks. And at some point, graffiti artists covered large sections with foliage, buildings and people in an approximation of Drinning's style.

No large-scale photograph of the unblemished work was available for the creation of the Petersen's replica, so SPARC's digital lab director, Farhad Akhmetov, did the restoration using a composite of several images taken when the mural was completed. Muralists Martha Ramirez and Judith Baca, SPARC artistic director and co-founder, filled in gaps by painting directly on the replica.

The Petersen split the $15,000 cost with SPARC, which commissioned the mural in 1991 -- and would like to restore it someday. The replica "doesn't replace the piece on the street," Baca said, "but I think it can go someplace else and be as beautiful and interactive as it was on the street."

Baca said efforts to contact Drinning have been unsuccessful.

-- Lynne Heffley

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