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Chicano Park
Cpsclogo.png
Chicano Park logo, originally by Rico Bueno. La Tierra Mía means "My Land".
Location Logan Heights, San Diego, California
Area 32,000 m2
Created April 22, 1970
Operated by Chicano Park Steering Committee
Chicano Park
NRHP reference No. 12001192
Significant dates
Added to NRHP January 23, 2013
Designated NHL December 23, 2016

Chicano Park is a 32,000 square meter (7.9 acre) park located beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in Barrio Logan, a predominantly Chicano or Mexican American and Mexican-migrant community in central San Diego, California. The park is home to the country's largest collection of outdoor murals, as well as various sculptures, earthworks, and an architectural piece dedicated to the cultural heritage of the community. Because of the magnitude and historical significance of the murals, the park was designated an official historic site by the San Diego Historical Site Board in 1980, and its murals were officially recognized as public art by the San Diego Public Advisory Board in 1987. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 owing to its association with the Chicano Movement, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016. Chicano Park, like Berkeley's People's Park, was the result of a militant (but nonviolent) people's land takeover. Every year on April 22 (or the nearest Saturday), the community celebrates the anniversary of the park's takeover with a celebration called Chicano Park Day.

Background

The area was originally known as the East End, but was renamed Logan Heights in 1905. The first Mexican settlers there arrived in the 1890s, followed soon after by refugees fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910. So many Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans settled there that the southern portion of Logan Heights eventually became known as Barrio Logan.

The original neighborhood reached all the way to San Diego Bay, with waterfront access for the residents. This access was denied beginning with World War II, when Naval installations blocked local access to the beach. The denial of beachfront access was the initial source of the community's resentment of the government and its agencies.

This resentment grew in the 1950s, when the area was rezoned as mixed residential and industrial. Junk dealers and repair shops moved into the barrio, creating air pollution, loud noise, and aesthetic conditions unsuitable for a residential area. Resentment continued to grow as the barrio was cleaved in two by Interstate 5 in 1963 and was further divided in 1969 by the elevated onramps of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge.

At this time, Mexicans were accustomed to not being included in discussions concerning their communities and to not being represented by their officials, so no formal complaint was lodged. This attitude began to change as the Civil Rights Movement unfolded in parallel with park development efforts. As various community campaigns coalesced under the banner of the Chicano Movement (for the right to organize and collectively bargain, led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers, the rights to the full benefits guaranteed to veterans, led by Dr. Hector P. Garcia of the American G.I. Forum, the right to equal and pertinent education, led by the student group MEChA which issued the Plan de Santa Barbara, for the rights of Mexicans guaranteed under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, (especially land grants and bilingual education) under Reies Tijerina, and for recognition of the historic contributions of Mexican-Americans and the validity of Mexican culture) so too did the political awareness and sense of empowerment grow in Barrio Logan.

Community residents had long been demanding a park. The City Council had promised to build a park to compensate for the loss of over 5,000 homes and businesses removed for the construction of the freeway and bridge, as well as for the aesthetic degradation created by the overhead freeways supported by a forest of gray concrete piers. In June 1969, the park was officially approved and a site was designated, but no action was taken to implement the decision.

The takeover

The final straw came on April 22, 1970. On his way to school, a community member, San Diego City College student, and Brown Beret member named Mario Solis noticed bulldozers next to the area designated for the park. When he inquired about the nature of the work being undertaken, he was shocked to discover that, rather than a park, the crew was preparing to build a parking lot next to a building that would be converted into a California Highway Patrol station.

Solis went door-to-door to spread the news of the construction. At school, he alerted the students of Professor Gil Robledo's Chicano studies class, who printed fliers to bring more attention to the affair. At noon that day, Mexican-American high school students walked out of their classes to join other neighbors who had already congregated at the site. Some protesters formed human chains around the bulldozers, while others planted trees, flowers, and cactus. Solis is reported to have commandeered a bulldozer to flatten the land for planting. Also, notably, the flag of Aztlán was raised on an old telephone pole, marking a symbolic "reclamation" of land that was once Mexico by people of Mexican descent.

There were many young people and families at the protest. When the crowd grew to 250, construction was called off. The occupation of Chicano Park lasted for twelve days while community members and city officials held meetings to negotiate the creation of a park. During that time, groups of people came from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara to join the occupation and express solidarity. The Chicano Park Steering Committee was founded by Josephine Talamantez, Victor Ochoa, Jose Gomez, and others. Not trusting the city and fearing that abandoning the land would be tantamount to conceding defeat, an agreement was finally reached and the Steering Committee called for an end to the occupation of the land while stationing informal picketers on the public sidewalks around the disputed terrain to provide residents with information regarding the project. They maintained that the park would be re-occupied if negotiations failed.

At a meeting on April 23, a young artist named Salvador Torres, recently returned to the barrio from the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, shared his vision of adorning the freeway support pillars with beautiful artworks and a green belt with trees and other vegetation that would stretch all the way to the waterfront. For this reason, he is sometimes referred to as "the architect of the dream." Finally, on July 1, 1970, $21,814.96 was allocated for the development of a 1.8 acre (7,300 m²) parcel of land.

Park establishment

While the creation of the park was actually begun on the day of the takeover, with minor landscaping improvements being undertaken by the occupiers, the murals that brought the park to prominence were not begun until 1973. Adding unplanned murals and splashes of color did start in 1970, however, with Guillermo Aranda, Mario Acevedo, Victor Ochoa, Tomas Castaneda and others working on the freeway retaining walls and pylons. With few exceptions, the artists and their organizations raised the money necessary to purchase muriatic acid to wash the columns, rubber surface conditioner to prepare them, and paints. Victor Ochoa, a founding member of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, recalls that on March 23, 1973 he brought 300 brushes and there were nearly 300 people helping to paint all weekend. The Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego's Balboa Park served as a training area for many of the muralists. Many non-Chicanos also participated including Anglo artist, Michael Schnorr. Eventually a core of about 16 artists were dedicated to finishing the murals with many well-known Chicano artists and groups participating, such as members of the Royal Chicano Air Force. Over time, more vegetation was planted to create a cactus garden.

The first group of graffiti took nearly two years to complete. The murals at Chicano Park act as a way to transmit the history and culture of Mexican-Americans and Chicanos. Murals have many themes including addressing immigration, feminist concerns and featuring historical and civil rights leaders.

In 1978, there was a "Mural Marathon" which took place from April 1 through April 22. During those twenty-one days, approximately 10,000 square feet of murals were painted.

Other additions to the park have been piecemeal, as the comprehensive "Master Plan" put forth by the artists was never adopted by the city. The park has expanded, and currently reaches almost "all the way to the bay", a phrase used as the rally cry to extend the park in a 1980 campaign. The Cesar E. Chávez Waterfront Park was begun in 1987 and completed in 1990, finally restoring beach access to the community. With the exception of three city blocks that are not part of the park, the original goal of creating a community park with waterfront access has been achieved.

On Saturday, April 24, 2010, there was a 40th Anniversary Celebration held at Chicano Park with the theme being: "40 Años de la Tierra Mia: Aquí Estamos y No Nos Vamos."

An 80-foot-wide community sign for the park was planned to go up by 2014.

In 2014, the park had lights installed so that it would be well-lit at night-time, to create a more family-friendly atmosphere.

Landmark and historical status

Because of the magnitude and historical significance of the murals, the park was designated an official historic site by the San Diego Historical Site Board in 1980, and its murals were officially recognized as public art by the San Diego Public Advisory Board in 1987. Josephine Talamantez and Manny Galaviz submitted the proposal that successfully added Chicano Park to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 due to its association with the Chicano Movement.

In 1997, Josephine Talamantez began the process of placing Chicano Park with its artwork and murals on the National Register in order to prevent the city of San Diego from damaging the murals while retrofitting Coronado Bridge. After years of work, Chicano Park was officially designated as a National Historic Landmark in December 2016. Talamantez is currently working towards opening a Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center inside a nearby city-owned building that used to house the Cesar Chavez Continuing Education Center.

Mural restoration

Mural restoration projects began in 1984, and the murals have been restored almost continuously ever since. A large-scale restoration project took place in 2012 with many of the original artists returning to work on the art. The murals were fully restored by 2013 in time for the 43rd Anniversary Celebration.

Anniversary days

Every year around April 22, Chicano Park marks an anniversary celebration to "celebrate the takeover of the area." The Park hosts traditional music as well as modern bands. Ballet folklorico, lowrider car exhibits and art workshops have also been a part of these celebrations.

  • 40th Anniversary Theme: 40 Aňos de the Tierra Mia: Aquí Estamos y No Nos Vamos
  • 43rd Anniversary Theme: Chicano Park: Aztlan's Jewel & National Chicano Treasure
  • 44th Anniversary Theme: La Tierra Es De Quien La Trabaja: The Land Belongs To Those Who Work It...

Park use

The park hosts many different events and groups throughout the year. Different groups who practice and perform Aztec dance use Chicano Park to prepare for ceremonies and other events.

Quotes

"The takeover of that land underneath the bridge in the barrio, that was a political expression. That was an expression of the community saying, 'Hey, we're not going to take it anymore. We're going to decide what's going to happen with this land.' And out of that political expression came cultural expression."—Veronica Enrique

"The community spirit and pent-up energy exploded in free, uncomposed murals of bright color."—Victor Ochoa

Gallery

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