Since 2003, a wall-sized mural created by Laguna College of Art and Design instructor Mia Tavonatti and her students brightened a building near the campus occupied by Laguna Canyon Winery.
During the last week of February, it suddenly disappeared under a thick coat of gray paint, a mystery that soon unraveled but provoked the ire of the college arts community that wants to see the work restored.
“We will do whatever necessary to cooperate with the city to rectify this situation,” LCAD President Dennis Power said, describing the mural as one of the finest early examples of the school’s mural program.
Even though it was situated on private property, the mural is classified as public art and thus subject to stringent rules regarding alterations or possible removal, according to the city’s cultural arts manager, Siân Poeschl, who first noticed the lamentable transformation on her drive home Feb. 25.
A day earlier, David Warner, of Laguna Hills sign maker, submitted a permit application to paint over the mural on behalf of brothers Marlowe and Darrel Huber, owners of Laguna Canyon Winery, who admitted to painting over the work.
City officials rejected the application, co-signed on Feb. 23 by the building’s owner, Steve Henry, as incomplete. They cited the municipal code section, which grants authority to remove public art works solely with the City Council.
As part of the application, the Hubers submitted a photo of the building wall minus the mural, but with a large black and white sign for the winery. Inconsistent with city sign ordinances and design standards, it was found to be too large.
“We heard from customers for six years that they had trouble finding us, but
we could not get permission to put up signage, not even a sandwich board, without city
permission,” said Marlowe Huber, though the name of the business is emblazoned across
his awning facing Laguna Canyon Road.
“The winery brings in tax dollars and I am paying rent for my space. I need visibility and with that mural I did not have visibility; there has to be a sign on that wall,” said Huber.
Huber said he obtained the permission of the building owner to paint over the mural, an assertion that Henry denies. “I never approved painting over the mural. Marlow painted it over to get the city moving, but that is the wrong thing to do,” said Henry, of Pacific Palisades, who has held the property for 27 years.
Henry could be subject to a $100 to $500 a day citation over the code violation, which is supposed to be corrected by March 24, according to the city’s code enforcement supervisor Joe Trujillo. No fine has yet been levied as the parties involved are trying to work out a solution, he said.
Henry wants to avoid penalties and instead explore a replacement mural with Power and Trujillo. He also expects the Hubers, seven-year tenants, to contribute to the process.
“We helped the art school financially to put it up and it was a city approved piece of art; it was a shock to me to see it taken down,” Henry said. “It’s impossible for him not to have known that what he was doing was wrong, that I could not possibly have given him permission. You can not even re-paint any building without city approval,” he said.
Huber conceded that he could accept a mural that depicted wine making in some form and included signage for the winery. However, a mural relating to an existing business in the complex would be considered commercial signage and not a mural, emphasized Poeschl and Trujillo, who received two anonymous phone complaints about the mural’s erasure.
Trujillo said he discussed the wall’s use with Huber last December. “I know that Marlowe had applied for sign permits to have a commercial sign painted on that mural but for now all his application processes for signage have been halted until the issue is
resolved,” he said.
Tavonatti, an LCAD instructor and founder of the school’s mural program,
mourned the destruction of the semester-long class project. “I thought it was in such good
shape and it amazes me that someone would just destroy a work of art, especially since it
involved such beautiful student work,” she said.
Tavonatti stressed that the mural, depicting man’s interaction with canyon life
was one of the largest in the county. Before beginning the project, she obtained proper
city permits and the approval, along with a financial contribution, from the
“The piece was a beautiful landmark,” she said. “It was very multi-layered,
showing how humans integrated with all aspects of canyon life, from hawks and
mountain lions right down to the phone poles, and all the students had signed it. He could
have used that wall to his advantage.”View Our User Comment Policy
Give the guy a break, he is trying to run a business in these tough times. Let the tree huggers find somewhere else to paint as I am sure they would be given government funding to do it anyway….LOL
“Let the tree huggers find somewhere else to paint”
So Mr. Smith, all painters/artists are tree huggers huh? I find it very interesting that you seem to think that destroying many people’s art work that was there for 8 years is somehow funny. People paid to attend the college, people followed the rules and regulations to get the proper permits. People were very proud of their work when it was complete as were/are many of the residents that have driven past it for years.
When someone takes it upon themselves to just destroy all that, they need to be disciplined in whatever fashion the city/artists see fit. (destroying someone else’s work to help yours is not acceptable)
I’m sure that you would just think that it’s OK if someone came to your house in the cover of night and just haphazardly slapped grey paint on it?
p.s. in case you missed it, Laguna Beach is an artists’ colony that goes back many decades. Art is not only appreciated here, it’s encouraged.
Sorry didn’t mean to interrupt your tea party…..
Millions of people drive that canyon road to experience the art of Laguna Beach. Art is what drives the economy of this town. Without all the serious, hard working, professional, tax paying artists who have turned Laguna into a destination for people from all over the world, many of the small businesses, like the winery, wouldn’t survive. That mural drew all eyes sitting in canyon traffic to his building and did nothing but make a landmark of his building. Now it is just another ugly grey wall incapable of attracting anyone’s attention.
“We heard from customers for six years that they had trouble finding us…”
Coulda just told them it was the building with the big beautiful mural on it.
its his property, so let the guy do what he want to it.
how would you likevandals come to your wall in your home and paint it without telling you, thats called GRAFFITI. its an eye sore all those color, only drug addict would want something with that many color and shapes, its UGLY!! Leave it grey and dull, who cares, go paint somewhere else!!
I wonder if the Huber brothers thoroughly thought of other signage alternatives. How about posting their sign above the mural or using advertising flags. From the photo above, it appears that the business’ name could have been placed on the side of the awning as well. As a result, they could have advertised their business like they desired without altering the mural.
RE Arcadian comment:
“its his property, so let the guy do what he want to it.”
Well to start with, you got that wrong. The Hubers are not the owners of the building, they are the renters. The owner of the building actually contributed financing to have the mural painted there back in 2008.
“how would you likevandals come to your wall in your home and paint it without telling you, thats called GRAFFITI.”
It’s not called graffiti when the artists SUBMITTED for permits and were APPROVED to create the mural in the first place.
“its an eye sore all those color, only drug addict would want something with that many color and shapes, its UGLY!!”
I am sure that Salvador Dali and the likes that use an extensive pallet of colors will now destroy all their life’s work since that is your opinion..
“Leave it grey and dull, who cares, go paint somewhere else!!”
I care and all those that have driven past it for the last eight years care!
What’s next book burnings because you don’t approve of the content? Where do we start, let me guess Harry Potter because it’s going to turn all our society into witches?
Maybe you should do a little more research into the topic before you start tossing around ridiculous comments as you have. Or maybe, just maybe you have a stake in the business somehow… hmmm
Laguna Beach is an artists’ colony, they create art here and have for decades. If you don’t like it; you have the CHOICE of not coming or looking, however you do NOT have the choice of destroying it just because you may not agree with it.
ps. Many people in our country have been hit hard by this economy; we find legal ways of coping with it, not destroying others work as an alternative. I now choose to NOT support the winery any longer because of their actions and from those that I’ve talked to here in the community, I’m part of the majority in this case. Hopefully they will rectify the situation soon before they lose ALL the good will they had earned over the years…..
*Correction above* The mural was painted in 2003 not 2008..