With one member declaring, “We can do better than this,” the Huntington Beach Design Review Board brushed off an applicant’s proposal to paint the city’s largest mural on private property.
The mural — proposed last year by Kim Kramer of the Huntington Beach Public Art Alliance — depicts a surfer riding a wave, Ruby’s Diner, the pier, a lifeguard tower, surfboards and the ocean.
That privately funded image would decorate two walls on the Frontier building at 604 Main St. downtown, where Main transitions into a residential area near the Huntington Beach Art Center and Triangle Park.
Kramer told the city board on Thursday that the image, illustrated by local artist Melissa Murphy, was brainstormed with Huntington’s Surf City branding in mind by a five-member Art Alliance committee.
The board voted 3-0 not to recommend the proposed mural design to the city Planning Commission, which will make the decision on the mural unless the proposal is appealed to the City Council.
Thursday’s vote followed an hour of public comment. Supporters said the mural would beautify an eyesore of a building with iconic images representative of the city.
“Who can’t connect with a smile and a surfer and a beautiful wave that’s on there?” said resident Ali Santura, who would be able to see both walls from her home. “Huntington Beach fought real hard for the moniker of Surf City USA and sometimes I think we forget how important that moniker is to the community, the vibe of local people and to business here.”
Critics argued the mural features city stereotypes and could create congestion and parking problems.
“This imagery is tired, it’s played out,” said resident Patrick O’Neill.
“It would’ve been great, maybe in the ‘90s,” he said. “It would’ve been fantastic. What’s it going to look like in 2040 or 2050? We have to think long-term. And Huntington Beach deserves a vision when it comes to art and this massive canvas needs to have input from a lot of people.”
The board took issue with the design’s “bright, exuberant” colors that would make the building appear “gigantic,” as described by board member Kathie Schey. Design Review guidelines call for facades “detailed in such a way to make the structure appear smaller in scale.”
The board provided insight on private art projects that fall in a gray area because they are highly visible to the pubic. Kramer, Kalmick and city Director of Community Development Ursula Luna-Reynosa called the city’s current process on such projects imperfect.
A comprehensive art plan in the works may help address these gray areas moving forward.
When board member Lilli Cutler asked Kramer why the city or other local artists weren’t involved, he said the “basic reason is that this is not public art that’s publicly funded.”
Cutler later asked Kalmick if they’d be willing to work with residents on a new design.
Kalmick said they had already waited a year for the project to move forward, noting there would always be a certain group of people who wouldn’t like the final artwork.
“I do apologize for the process but are we really going to find something that 100% of people are going to like?” Kalmick asked. “It’s not there forever. It can be changed. That building really isn’t going anywhere.”
Schey agreed a mural would benefit the building but that the artwork should be “innovative” and “present the best art we have.”
“I think we can do better than this,” she said.