Newest thing at Balboa Park to show family this weekend? 1935 murals make comeback

The Committee of One Hundred has donated temporary murals for the front of the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park. The historic preservation group wants to raise $200,000 for permanent replicas of the 1935 art pieces.
(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A Balboa Park historic preservation group wants to see 1935-era outdoor murals return to the front of the San Diego Automotive Museum building.

Step 1 is done: Temporary recreations. Step 2 will be permanent versions on ceramic tile.

In late October, four massive temporary murals were erected above the doors of the Balboa Park museum.

Each is 18 feet high and 8 feet wide. They depict scenes from early California — smokestack factories, stucco settlements, pine trees and craggy mountains — in what’s now vivid color.

But they won’t last: The canvas underneath is vinyl attached to aluminum frames. The images will fade after two or three years in the sun.

It’s a first step, said Michael Kelly, president of the Committee of One Hundred, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the park’s historic architecture.

The group wants to raise the $200,000 necessary to commission tile replicas of the murals that should last for many years.

“They represented California’s commerce, scenic beauty, industry and agriculture ... the things that California was proud of,” Kelly said.

The original murals were created for Balboa Park’s second major showcase, the 1935 to 1936 California Pacific International Exposition.

The southern portion of the park — known as the Palisades — was largely developed for that event.

The mural restoration is the first part of what some park lovers hope is a renaissance for that section, which is sometimes overlooked by visitors despite being anchored by the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

“The remnants of the buildings can be made to look pretty spiffy,” said Welton Jones, a Committee of One Hundred board member.

“A lot of us thought the one that would be the easiest probably would be the Auto Museum.”

The art deco-style building served as the California State Building during the 1935 fair.

It survived, though it was built quickly and inexpensively during the Great Depression -- but its murals were never intended to.

The originals were created by Hollywood set designer Juan Larrinaga, who became art director for the exposition.

They were believed to be painted on fiber board and mounted in 1-foot squares to mimic tiles.

The effort to create replicas faced a major stumbling block, according to Kelly: They didn’t have photographs of the original colors in the murals.

What’s hanging up now is the result of educated guesses.

“We said, well, we know the sky is blue and the trees are green. You can pretty much guess all the colors except for the border tiles,” Kelly said.

“We came up with several versions to run by people and chose the one that everybody liked the best.”

The Committee of One Hundred expects to commission an Ojai-based art tile studio to make the permanent replacement tiles, once the money is raised.

A public celebration of the temporary murals will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday. City Councilman Chris Ward and County Supervisor Ron Roberts are scheduled to speak.

For more information on the project, contact the Committee of One Hundred at


Twitter: @jensteeley