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East L.A. artist brings “Freeway Kids” out of hibernation*

Nov 1, 2012
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Photo by Gil Ortiz

Raul Gonzales working on Freeway Kid/Gil Ortiz

Motorists driving on the 101 Freeway through downtown Los Angeles have been watching since late September as the boys and girls featured in L.A. Freeway Kids, a 1984 mural by Glenna Boltuch Avila,  have emerged from underneath layers of gray paint.   Artist and restorer Willie Herron III, who lives in the City Terrace section of East Los Angeles, heads a crew that has been commissioned by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles to restore the artwork.  L.A. Freeway Kids, which is painted on the north side of the 101 near Los Angeles Street, has been “hibernating” under layers of gray paint applied by Caltrans to protect the artwork from vandalism, according to officials.

Herron and his crew have peeled and water-blasted away the protective coating before performing any needed repairs or restoration on each of the kids, which measure between six-feet to eight-feet high, according to Caltrans.   On  Tuesday, the crew turned its attention to restoring the seventh and final kid Gabriel Estrada, the diaper-clad child clutching a basketball.

Estrada, who was barely big enough to hold a basketball back in 1984, is now a 30-year-old commercial real estate broker who lives in Glendale. He and his family were on hand on Tuesday as his childhood portrait came back into the view of freeway commuters.

The restoration of L.A. Freeway Kids, which was one of several freeway murals painted in time for the 1984 Olympics,  is scheduled to be completed by Friday, said Isabel Rojas-Williams, executive director of the conservancy, which has committed itself to maintaining the murals.  Once L.A. Freeway Kids has been restored, fundraising will begin to revive other freeway murals.

“Bringing these iconic murals back will bring back our history, civic pride, tourism and much needed jobs for the younger generation,” said Rojas-Williams.

City Hall looms over the Freeway Kids/Isabel Rojas-Williams

Willie Heron III uncovering the" Basketball Kid"/Vince Antonio

MCLA's Isabel Rojas-Williams, "The basketball kid," Gabriel Estrada, and muralist Glenna Avila./José Lopez

Photos of the Freeway Kids restoration project are posted on the mural conservancy’s Facebook page.

* Update:  Work on the next freeway mural to be restored, Going To The Olympics by Frank Romero,  is scheduled to begin in the second week of November, said Rojas-Williams.


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