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Legacy of public art reflects La Verne identity

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by Kenneth Todd Ruiz
Editor in Chief

A centennial of La Verne history is found not in the library archives, but painted, crafted and sculpted on the city’s walls and public spaces.

From the ubiquitous orange crate labels recalling the town’s citrus origins in Old Town to abstract murals reflecting the foothill landscape along Arrow Highway, this small town is big on public art.

In recent years, city hall has updated the city plan to promote public art displays in the city.

“The plan is a blueprint for the future of the city,” said Arlene Andrew, senior planner for the city. “It’s a deliberate move to encourage public art.”

She said that new developments in the business corridor along Foothill Boulevard have included numerous public art components, such as “It’s Your Fault,” a multi-colored sheet metal sculpture of the fault lines that run through the area.

The city has gone so far as to establish art requirements in the Arrow Highway business park.

Up to 1 percent of funds for new developments are required to be spent on public art or go into a city fund for that purpose.

“We look for something incorporated into the design, not just plopped down in some corner,” Andrew said.

Such integrated designs include the facade of the Bagelry on Foothill Boulevard, with it’s inset mural.

The plan cites several goals to “foster cultural awareness through public art projects, promotion of the arts and programs commemorating La Verne’s history.”

More than 20 examples of public art are found within La Verne borders. Damien High School boasts the oldest known of these, a 1939 mural on the wall of a music building. A classic example of art deco design, the mural represents musical instruments and choir singers, signed at the bottom by the “Class of ’39.”

In an effort to keep things local, the city tries to draw upon local artists for the projects.

Brian Worley, director of facilities management at the University of La Verne, applied colored layers of stucco in 2001 to compose “Mountainscape” on the walls of a storage facility at 1960 San Dimas Canyon Road, as well as “Mountain Waves,” a cut-glass mosaic at White Avenue and First Street.

Recent arrivals to the neighborhood have added to the city’s creative landscape. When Kohl’s opened its doors last year on Foothill Boulevard, the “Pride of La Verne,” a mural emblazoned with the setting sun reflected off San Dimas Canyon, was included on the eastern wall.

In 1995, when The Bagelry moved into its peach-colored home, the owners commissioned “Citrus Traditions,” an abstract ceramic tile mosaic incorporated into the buildings facade.

Skewed past the point of abstraction, “It’s Your Fault” is a crayola-colored representation of the region’s geologic fault lines painted onto sheet metal panels in front at Foothill Boulevard and Moreno Avenue.

“It’s part of preserving our heritage and culture,” said Mayor Jon Blickenstaff of the artwork.

Difficult to pin down on a favorite, Blickenstaff said the new mural on the side of the fire department resonates personally with him.

Showing three scenes, the mural depicts fire fighters from the past and today.

“I was a volunteer for 14 years in the fire department,” he said. “I was wearing that uniform.”

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