Salvador Roberto Torres. Photo courtesy UC Santa Barbara library

A 32-year-old mural painted by a renowned San Diego Chicano artist at Memorial Prep Middle School in the Logan Heights neighborhood was destroyed despite a last-ditch effort by community members to stop its demolition.

The school building bearing the mural was demolished Wednesday afternoon despite a community member, Encanto resident Monica Bernal, holding a spontaneous sit-in protest at the demolition site for about an hour before being taken away by police, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The muralist, Salvador Roberto Torres, an influential artist who helped create Chicano Park in 1970, wrote to school district officials this week trying to enforce what he said is his right to remove the mural before it was destroyed, according to the newspaper.

San Diego Unified officials said the mural could not be saved because it was painted on a classroom building that contained a lot of asbestos. They reasoned that breaking into the wall to preserve the mural would have released the hazardous material, the Union-Tribune reported.

District officials said the mural has been documented and will be recreated at the new school site after it’s constructed.

Bernal, an Encanto resident who grew up in Sherman Heights and went to Memorial Prep, told the Union-Tribune she sees the mural’s destruction as another form of erasure of history and culture in an area that is being gentrified.

“It’s an erasure of who we are,” she told the newspaper. “Those murals are who we are. They tell our history.”

On Wednesday, police spoke with Bernal and tried to persuade her to leave the site. She continually refused before police handcuffed her and carried her off site by her limbs, then gave her a misdemeanor ticket for failing to disperse, she told the newspaper.

San Diego School Police Captain Joseph Florentino told the Union- Tribune the last thing police wanted to do was put their hands on a peaceful protester. But he said Bernal endangered herself and others by being so close to the building, which was already partially demolished and was close to collapsing.

The mural was painted around 1988 by Torres, who co-founded the Centro Cultural de la Raza and spearheaded a murals project at Chicano Park starting in 1973. The park now holds the largest collection of Chicano murals in the world, according to the UC Santa Barbara Library.

The mural on the school featured a diverse group of Memorial students and graduates, veterans of World War I, and Sharon “Christa” McAuliffe, a teacher who became an astronaut and died in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger explosion.

The demolition of the school Wednesday was part of a massive renovation that will transform the Logan K-8 elementary school and Memorial Prep middle school into a complex that will serve children from infants to high schoolers.

The project will build Logan Heights’ first public high school, along with a Montessori program. The complex also will offer athletic fields, a health and wellness center, access to legal representation, counseling and dental services.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.