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‘We want everybody to heal’: New mural in La Jolla offers message of ‘Unity in Diversity’

The new "Unity in Diversity" mural covers a wall of CJ Charles Jewelers at 1135 Prospect St. in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

An empty wall running down an alley in La Jolla has come alive with a new mural in response to recent demonstrations protesting racial injustice.

The mural, titled “Unity in Diversity” and featuring flowers, hearts and hands reaching for each other, spans the entire length of the western wall of CJ Charles Jewelers at 1135 Prospect St. Those who organized and executed it hope it spreads a message of peace and unity to The Village.

La Jolla resident and philanthropist Michelle Lerach came up with the idea for the mural after seeing shops boarded up this month as a precaution in light of two incidents of vandalism in The Village and nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in custody of Minneapolis police.

“The boarding up is pretty ugly and sad,” Lerach said. “I wondered what we can do to beautify it.”

She had the idea to paint the boards with a mural and called Vahid Moradi, owner of CJ Charles Jewelers. Moradi hadn’t boarded up but loved the idea.

“I offered her one better,” he said, and indicated the empty wall in the adjacent alley.

Lerach jumped at the idea of a more permanent mural and reached out to Gennaro Garcia, who designed much of the art at Galaxy Taco in La Jolla Shores. “I asked him for something beautiful, welcoming and supportive,” Lerach said. “The design is unifying, not threatening.”

Moradi contacted his landlord, who approved the design and encouraged the mural. The painting began June 9 and was finished June 12, in time for a Black Lives Matter march from La Jolla Cove to Windansea Beach.

With chants of “No justice, no peace; no racist police” and “Black lives matter” echoing in the streets of La Jolla, crowds of Black Lives Matter supporters gathered June 12 at La Jolla Cove and proceeded to march to Windansea Beach in a mass demonstration.

“We want it to be a message that conveys peace, unity, oneness,” Moradi said. “We’re all people. We need to do our part to let people know we’re with you. We want everybody to heal.”

Moradi said he has felt “emotional for a long, long time. I’m worried about everyone. You see people struggling.”

When Lerach approached him about a mural, he thought it was a perfect way to “find a common ground to communicate this message to The Village. It’s about all of us; blood runs through all our veins. We all want to be happy, respected, a life with dignity.”

Lerach and many others pitched in to help Garcia paint the mural. Friends of Lerach’s, as well as passersby — adults and children — assisted, working well past sunset in an effort to finish quickly. “There’s been a tremendous response,” Lerach said. “It’s a truly beautiful thing.”

Not everyone was thrilled, however. Lerach said one man argued with her in the alley in a “hostile and threatening manner.”

Moradi said the man “was accusing us of being antifa,” a far-left anti-fascism political movement. “But this is about peace!”

“Ironically,” Lerach said, “this is why Vahid wanted this. People are on edge; nerves are frayed. This is just flowers on a wall, hearts and hands.”

And when Lerach and Garcia arrived to finish the mural June 12, they found that a vandal had written “Black Lives Matter” in green spray paint on the mural overnight. Moradi’s security cameras captured images of the incident.

Security cameras captured someone spray-painting a new mural at 1135 Prospect St. in La Jolla.
Security cameras captured someone spray-painting a new mural at 1135 Prospect St. in La Jolla.
(Courtesy)

“It’s just wrong,” Moradi said. “So sinister.”

He said he probably wouldn’t file a police report. “There’s enough controversy,” he said. “I’m just hoping to ask the public who knows this guy.”

Lerach and Garcia were able to reverse the damage quickly and finished the mural by noon June 12.

Despite those incidents, Moradi said “the energy level in our alley the past [few] days has been amazing. This was an opportunity to really show we’re seeking light. So far it’s been well-received.”

The Planned District Ordinance Committee, which has discussed mural installation in the past at the behest of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, did not comment to the Light about this mural.

Ed Witt, chairman of Enhance La Jolla, a nonprofit organization dedicated to maintenance and improvement of The Village, said he saw the mural as he walked by and thought “it’s beautiful and the right message.”

He noted that “murals are not the responsibility of Enhance La Jolla or [its] Maintenance Assessment District, but I certainly think this enhances La Jolla at a time when we need to be so aware and so sensitive.”

Jodi Rudick, executive director of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association, said: “There is nothing more beautiful than a message everyone can rally around. We are a welcoming community and we want to do better, and these are some great first steps.”

The mural has support from the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library and Murals of La Jolla, a nonprofit that has sponsored more than 30 murals in La Jolla over the past decade.

“While not associated with the new mural, we welcome such a timely and thoughtful public artwork in our community,” said Athenaeum communications director Lidia Rossner.

Moradi said he hopes the mural will stay on the wall “for a long time. We can paint over it once people see it … but will just see how it’s received.”

New murals adorn boarded-up businesses

Independent of Lerach, another group of friends has been working to paint the plywood used to board up Village businesses.

Plywood used to board up windows at Glidia Salon at 7760 Fay Ave. in La Jolla was covered by a mural.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The murals were painted by Julie Matibag and a few of her friends, who got the idea after driving and walking by the boarded-up storefronts. They started with the Ascot Shop at 7750 Girard Ave., which since has opened and taken its mural down.

Other murals were painted at Glidia Salon, 7760 Fay Ave., and Mangelsen Images of Nature Gallery at 7916 Girard, with another on the back side of Mangelsen, facing Prospect Street.

A mural on the Prospect Street side of Mangelsen Images of Nature Gallery is pictured in progress.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“We’re trying to paint a little optimism in The Village,” Matibag said. “We’re not artists, but we’re not afraid [of big projects].”

Matibag said she understands that the boarding-up is temporary but hopes the murals can survive.

“We’re hoping they donate them to The Village, use them somewhere else,” she said. “We can reuse them somewhere, like barriers for temporary construction.”

Why the boards?

Many businesses boarded up across La Jolla as a proactive protection measure.

The Gracie James home goods store at 7938 Herschel Ave. did so to protect the art on consignment the store contains, according to co-owner Susan Reynolds.

“We carry a lot of art from various artists and it has a substantial value,” Reynolds said. “We have a lot of art that belongs to artists, much of it on consignment, and we wanted to honor their art and protect that.

“At the time we made the decision, there had been a few accounts of vandalism in La Jolla. Stores had had their windows damaged, so we did it primarily to protect our business until we figured out what the plan was for the area.”

The store took down its boards June 12 when “we felt there wasn’t any threat of the windows being broken. We felt everyone was going to be safe,” Reynolds said.

Like other businesses where paintings were put on their boards, Gracie James planned to have an adornment if it appeared the boards would be up for an extended time.

“We are a big supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Reynolds said. “We want to have black artists to paint …. something on the doors.”

La Jolla Light staff writer Ashley Mackin-Solomon contributed to this report.