Monday, October 28, 2013

Self-Help Graphic Arts building in East Los Angeles (& Shrine)

Happy Mosaic Monday!

Today's mosaic adorns a 1927 building in East Los Angeles, although the tile mosaic itself was installed much later--sixty years later.

Address: 3800 E. Cesar Chavez Avenue (once Brooklyn Ave), at Gage.

Artist Eduardo Oropeza, who died ten years ago, applied the decorative facade to the building itself in 1987.

According to the history provided by the LA Conservancy, this building was planned to house the Brooklyn State Bank, but there's no record that the bank ever opened its doors in LA. 1927 was just before the Stock Market Crash and Depression, and my understanding is that even before the Crash, lots of wild speculation and poor investments were affecting businesses all over the country, so maybe the Brooklyn State Bank fell victim to that.

The building was also planned as a four-story affair, but that didn't happen either. It was supposed to have a market as well as a bank on the ground floor, but the Conservancy tells of no occupants until . .

. . . 1944,when the Archdiocese of Los Angeles bought it, and made it a Catholic Youth Organization. The Conservancy website says it became :

"the incubator for the Chicano/East Los Angeles rock and roll sound developed during the 1950s and 1960s. It was the place to go hear local bands – including Thee Midniters, Cannibal and the Headhunters, the Premiers, and the Salas Brothers – who went on to national and international fame for introducing the then-burgeoning East L.A. sound into mainstream rock & roll music."

All that before the mosaic!

Here's more:

"In 1979, it became the new home of SHG&A [Self Help Graphics & Art]. Founded by local artists and community activist Sister Karen Boccalero, a Franciscan nun committed to social change, SHG&A has become the leading visual arts cultural center in East Los Angeles, garnering national and international recognition. Established during the cultural rebirth of the Chicana/o movement of the 1960s and '70s, SHG&A has nurtured the talents of emerging artists through training and has given exposure to young local artists, many of whom have gone on to global prominence such as Patssi Valdez, Willie Heron, Gronk, Frank Romero, and Diane Gamboa.In the 1980s, the upstairs reception hall doubled as the Vex, providing a rare community venue for emerging East L.A. punk bands."

SHG&A--an organization that started out in someone's garage in 1970,  was paying the Archdiocese one dollar a year in rent for the building. But by the 21st century, the place needed repairs that could not be paid for.

Another history is at the Self Help Graphics website. After nearly vanishing in 2006, the institution regrouped and moved to 1st Street in Boyle Heights but is still dedicated to Sister Karen Boccalero's vision.

SHG&A is one of two organizations that popularized the Day of the Dead--Dia de los Muertos--in the early 1970s and made it part of our culture. That's why people my age don't remember all those candy skulls from our childhood! Those candies didn't exist in LA until the 1970s.

Eduardo Oropeza comes into the picture in 1987. He spent three years embedding the ceramic tiles that adorn the older Self Help Graphics & Art building on Cesar Chavez Avenue.

Artist Eduardo Oropeza was very successful and his work is owned by LACMA--though it's not currently on display. Glenn Green Galleries of Santa Fe has the most information on him, and many pictures of his work. They describe him as "A quiet, gentle spirit, with a heart full of whimsy and an overflowing imagination, he speaks softly."

Oropeza seems to have been primarily a sculptor of bronze or metal life-sized images, although the gallery also has drawings and paintings of Day of the Dead figures (appropriate for this week, huh?). He was a photographer, too. The shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, left was the second phase of the Self Help Graphics & Art Building work, done for the community. It has been relocated to the new SHG&A site in Boyle Heights, so it's no longer a part of the old building--which the LA Conservancy still refers to as the Self Help Graphics & Art building. Confusing.

Not sure who is in the old building now.

The first large picture in the post, taken in 2006, is from Wikipedia, which actually has the best and most comprehensive history of the organization. The other two photos above are from Zillow.com, and you'll be glad to know the stage and big ballroom are still intact. The Archdiocese sold the building in 2008; the place last changed hands in 2011. The last picture is from Glenn Green Galleries.

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