Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee and Placentia Mayor Rhonda Shader joined members of the Atwood community Saturday to celebrate the restoration of a neighborhood mural that lines their community park.
Parque De Los Niños is adjacent to the railroad tracks, and Shader told the crowd that the 260-foot mural is already a head-turner for travelers on the Metrolink train going between Los Angeles and Riverside.
“Atwood is the gateway into Placentia,” Shader said. ”When people are on that Metrolink, they see this mural … and they’ll continue into downtown [Placentia] where they have new murals.”
Community activist Joe Parra has wanted to restore the unnamed, faded Atwood mural since 2012 to help boost neighborhood morale.
But he didn’t know who the artist was, so it was hard to convince the local government that the mural was historic and worth preserving.
It wasn’t until the filmmakers working on a documentary about the late Manuel Hernandez-Trujillo went looking for the mural in 2018 (and were confronted by a resident who mistook them for loiterers) that Parra learned the late artist had painted the mural in 1977 to pay tribute to Atwood’s history.
Parra, community leader Joshua Correa and Hernandez-Trujillo’s daughter Xóchitl Zuniga quickly banded together and met with local officials to ask for support in restoring the mural.
Only a week after they received approval to move forward, however, the mural was mistakenly whitewashed by staff from OC Public Works.
“Everybody just rallied,” Chaffee said. “When this tragedy happened of being painted over, [the community] just worked harder, came together and got it done.”
Since June, the Atwood mural project team has hosted weekly community painting days — encouraging neighbors to be part of the restoration.
“We were inspired by what the neighborhood of Atwood did [in the ’70s],” Correa said, referring to the Self-Help Project that helped earn Placentia the All-America City Award from the National Civic League in 1971. “Thirty-one homes built, neighbors building each other’s homes, we wanted to honor that spirit by doing something collaborative.”
Though the restoration is not quite complete, Correa said they hope to finish the project by the end of October.
That will include adding informational signs about the mural and the history of Atwood.
“We lost my dad ... about [a] year ago on Aug. 4, and this entire year has been really rewarding to honor his legacy in this way,” Zuniga said to the crowd that included the artist’s brother; filmmaker Jakov Velasco, who made the documentary “Dancing With the Sun: The Artwork of Manuel Hernandez-Trujillo”; Manuel Gómez, a UC Irvine vice chancellor emeritus who wrote the “Dancing With the Sun” book; and a woman who helped paint the Atwood mural as a kid back in the ‘70s and was able to paint it again with her young daughter during the restoration effort.
“Atwood’s always been a community of love and respect and familia,” Parra said to cheers. “That’s what we are, [for] generations and generations.”