Guest Commentary

A search for Tucson's ever-changing murals can be an experience of wonder

April 15, 1990, found me in Tucson spending Easter Sunday with my parents. After a hearty meal, I persuaded my father to take me on a ride through the older sections of the city. I was able to find several murals, all with their own stories to tell, mainly in the southern and western areas of Tucson.

My ulterior motive was to locate painted wall murals done by the local artists. Murals, I am told, are the great egalitarian art form, inexpensive to paint, free to view and available to all. They allow the observer to view a small piece of Anglo, Indian and Mexican cultures.

Almost 15 years later, I came across the assortment of pictures taken so long ago. I wondered if any of the original murals remained. I started at the El Rio Neighborhood Center at 1390 W. Speedway Blvd. Six of the murals remain and are just as vibrant in color as they were nearly 15 years ago.

They document and celebrate the Chicano movement and its effect on the Tucson's Hispanic community. View the mural painted by local Tucson artist David Tineo. It shows a woman with wings clutching a book with an eagle and a serpent, symbols of Mexico.

All About Hair, formerly known as the Hair Trend Salon, at 3477 S. 12th Ave., has a mural painted on the side of its building that portrays President Benito Juarez of Mexico. Luis Gustavo Mena painted the mural in 1981. He also painted a shocking pink '54 Cadillac on the side wall of the Desert Suds car wash located in the 4600 block of South 12th Avenue, between Ohio and Oklahoma streets. The '54 Cadillac remains, just not as pink and vibrant as it once was.

Most of Tucson's murals are painted by someone from the Hispanic community, but one of great interest that still remains was painted by an Anglo. Farmer John's Meats, a former meat packing plant at Grant and Flowing Wells roads, has an array of murals that surround the outer and inner buildings that have withstood the elements. Painted in the early '60s by the late Leslie Allen Grimes, a Hollywood set designer, it shows cowboys lassoing cattle under a Western sky, with snorting bulls and a ranch house in the back.

However, many of the murals seen in 1990 have been painted over, or in some instances, the buildings no longer exist. However, there are some wonderful new ones to be found.

Continuing down Congress Street at Sixth Avenue, there is an ongoing jam session observed in a mural painted on the side of Chicago Music. Apparently it was a Safford Middle School project painted in the early '90s. Nobody at the school was able to add any additional information.

In 2000, Luis Gustavo Mena painted a mural on a wall adjacent to the Radisson Hotel City Center located at 181 W. Broadway Blvd. It is a picture of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, accompanied by his men as he set off from Mexico in 1540 in his search for the seven cities of gold, only to later discover it was all a myth. True Chicano Muralist by Mena will soon be published by Arizona State University.

Joshua Sarantitis and William Wilson are two muralists who have recently completed the Barrio Anita Project. This project has been a labor of love that has extended over two years to completion. Eight months of workshops and meeting with residents helped formulate the final design. The mural honors everyone from the neighborhood. It is 350 feet in length and 20 feet tall and is located on the east side of Interstate 10 and Contzen Avenue, north of St. Mary's Road. The area appears to be a peaceful place to visit. Sitting at one of the tables under the ramada will allow people to truly enjoy the story the mural has to tell.

There are more than 100 murals throughout the city waiting to be found, but there's currently no printed guide or map available to help one find these wonders of art. Stop at the Visitor's Center located at the corner of Church Street and Broadway and get a free city map. Then do as I did 15 years ago. Drive around; find a mural; stop and take a picture. Drive on until you find the next one.

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