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The fate of a mural in Boyle Heights renews concerns about gentrification

LOS ANGELES-CA-SEPTEMBER 18, 2015: A pedestrian passes by a mural in Boyle Heights on Friday, Septem
A pedestrian walks past a mural in Boyle Heights in 2015.
(Christina House/ For The Times)

Over three decades, the mural at the southwest corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Soto Street in Boyle Heights has been a backdrop for countless bus commuters, students walking to school and shoppers.

“El Corrido de Boyle Heights” — “The Ballad of Boyle Heights” — depicts neighborhood musicians playing a fiddle and an accordion, a singing woman and dancing newlyweds.

Earlier this week, a community Facebook page shared that the mural, which went up in 1983, would be destroyed and replaced by large display windows for a new store.

Not surprisingly in a neighborhood where even the whiff of gentrification can cause tumult, the posting raised alarms, with Facebook users sharing the post more than 400 times.

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On Wednesday, Councilman Jose Huizar commented on the post on the All Roads Lead to Boyle Heights Facebook page, stating that the owner wanted to preserve the mural but found it difficult to lease the building without adding windows and entries.

“We’ll continue to track the progress,” Huizar said. “Our office will do all it can to protect the integrity of the mural.”

The councilman added that the mural “represents the beauty, culture and history of our beloved Boyle Heights. As someone who grew up in Boyle Heights and lives there today with my family, I’ve experienced firsthand the power of murals to inform, educate and uplift a community.”

Whatever tenants we have, we’d like to get some that are good with leaving everything the way it is.
Sonny, a representative of the building’s ownership

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One day later, in an interview with The Times, a representative of the building’s ownership said information being shared on social media was inaccurate.

Plans for the tenant to move in have not been in play for some time now, said the representative, who asked to be identified only as Sonny.

He said rumors of a 90-day notice to take down the mural were also wrong.

“It’s a non-issue,” Sonny said. “There was a tenant that was looking just to open up one or two windows on the Soto side. It didn’t work out. We wanted to preserve the mural as well and not open up the windows. It just didn’t work out with the tenant and they’ve moved on.”

Everything fell through with the tenant about six weeks ago, he said.

Payless, which previously occupied the building, closed a few months back, Sonny said. The hope is to preserve the mural, he added.

“Whatever tenants we have, we’d like to get some that are good with leaving everything the way it is,” Sonny said. “We’re more than happy to work with the community. We like Boyle Heights.”

Sonny also said they have been in communication with the muralists.

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But word that the mural could be in trouble spread quickly online, sparking calls for petitions and protests.

One Facebook user who shared the news wrote: “Both a unique & irreplaceable work of art, this beautiful cultural icon will be sacrificed on the altar of gentrification. Why? To install display windows for a store.”

The uproar comes as anti-gentrification groups wage a battle against businesses — from art galleries to a cafe — that they believe could lead to increased rents and push out local business owners and working families.

“It is extremely important to all of us as a community to preserve our history,” said Isabel Rojas-Williams, a mural historian and ambassador for the arts. “They’re open books that speak about our community. These are treasures. We need to save it in whatever manner.”

Although some were extremely concerned about the fate of “The Ballad of Boyle Heights,” the muralists who created it are taking a more cautious approach.

“We’re not as upset as everybody else is,” said David Botello, a member of East Los Streetscapers, a collective that created the mural. “I’m telling people, don’t start any campaign or anything. There’s no decision. There’s nothing happening yet.”

brittny.mejia@latimes.com

steve.saldivar@latimes.com

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