News & Advocacy

City Council to Cover Up City Hall Mural

July 26, 2021

by Ruthann Lehrer, Advocacy Committee Co-Chair

A stunning development: On July 12th, the Landmarks Commission was informed that the City would go ahead and install fabric screens over the historic murals inside City Hall, bypassing the legally required review by the Landmarks Commission set forth in the Municipal Code. City staff is justifying this deviation from the legal process by creating “alternative facts” and describing the fabric as merely interior decoration, a minor adjustment of furnishings in City Hall like putting in a new desk or sign. This is a cover-up of the cover-up!

Photos: Santa Monica Daily Press c/o Santa Monica Cultural Affairs



As we have been reporting (see our advocacy efforts here and here), the fabric screens are intended to censor the historic murals created by famed artist Stanton MacDonald-Wright as part of the Works Progress Administration program that this artist directed in Southern California. City Hall is designated as a WPA Landmark and the murals are protected as significant features. The Municipal Code requires the Landmarks Commission to review and approve all proposed changes to designated landmarks through a Certificate of Appropriateness process.

The decision to evade the responsibilities of Landmark designation is unprecedented. It’s all the more egregious for taking place at the heart of our City government.

Though reactions to the murals today vary, there is widespread agreement that there should be accompanying narratives that explain their historic context as well as explore multiple themes of social injustice that characterize California history. Covering the murals, which prevents thoughtful preparation for a public process of engagement in this history, is an act of politicized censorship. It is not what we expect from a City that considers itself progressive and enlightened.

Interpretation of art that reflects our difficult history should not be politicized; the art should be analyzed and discussed so that different points of view can be expressed. The murals should remain on view so those who wish to participate can think for themselves. We urge City staff to begin immediately to develop an appropriate process that will result in a meaningful interpretive program for the murals.

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