By Nick Diamantides
One hundred years ago, the area now known as North Long Beach mostly comprised small family farms, but change was in the wind. By then, this coastal city that would be nicknamed “Iowa by the Sea” was already drawing hundreds of families from other states– including Iowa– who wanted to escape the harsh winters and sweltering summers of their own hometowns. Long Beach’s Mediterranean climate, affordable real estate, and availability of jobs worked together as an irresistible magnet for people looking for a better life.
Residential neighborhoods were springing up all over the area and the City of Long Beach was annexing more and more land. The process continued for several decades. Eventually, the small farms disappeared from North Long Beach and were replaced by large residential developments and commercial corridors. One of those corridors is Atlantic Avenue.
Last Saturday (January 9), about 80 people gathered for the dedication of a new mural that depicts the history of that corridor in North Long Beach. The mural, entitled “A Neighborhood Perspective,” was painted by José Loza on the south wall of the Super Mex restaurant located at 5660 Atlantic Avenue.
Loza is a local artist and full-time recreation leader for the Long Beach Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine. He designed and produced the 46-foot 6-inch by 13-foot mural with funding from the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency and help from the parks department, 8th District City Councilwoman Rae Gabelich and her field representative Linda Ivers.
“Working on the mural project was a great experience because I got to work with people from the community,” Loza said. “I also enjoyed the research that it entailed.” He explained that he discovered the history of North Long Beach with help from the Historical Society of Long Beach and by looking through materials on file at the Long Beach Public Library. He said he was fascinated to find out how North Long Beach evolved from an agricultural community to what it is today.
Loza said the North Project Area Committee (North PAC) helped him recruit people from the neighborhood to pose as models for the mural. Loza was the primary painter, but some city employees and volunteers of all ages from the community assisted him in the painting.
“I am very satisfied with the way the mural came out,” Loza said. “The most exciting thing for me was to be able to see the positive reactions from different people who were at the dedication.”
In addition to the crowd of residents and community leaders, several city officials, including Gabelich and Vice Mayor Val Lerch, attended the dedication ceremony.
“We are very excited about growing this part of the community,” Gabelich said. “Our objective is to use good works like José Loza’s art mural and the successful businesses like Super Mex and the New Opportunity Studio to draw additional folks that might be interested in opening up new businesses in this part of the city to create the environment that that neighborhood has been asking for, for so many years.”
Lerch represents the 9th Council District, which is just north of the mural location. He said he was glad to see another beautiful work of art on public display in that part of town. “I think this is the sixth mural that has gone up in North Long Beach since I took office,” Lerch said. “Any time we take a wall that used to be covered with graffiti and make it something to be proud of, it’s always good for the community.”
Heather Green, cultural program supervisor for the parks department, said the mural will help instill a sense of pride in North Long Beach residents. “The community murals that we have produced through working with the Redevelopment Agency and the Community Development Department during the past 20 years enrich the communities with knowledge of history and pride,” she said. “They also give opportunities for neighborhood youth to learn about their community in the process of making the murals.” Green said there are now 115 murals on display in locations throughout the city. The mural painted by Loza cost the RDA about $14,000.
Green said she has known Loza for many years. “He started with us as a volunteer when he was in the eighth grade,” she said, noting that Loza, who is 26 years old, has been a city employee for about eight years and is involved in several programs run by the parks department. “It’s been very exciting to see José excel in so many areas,” she added. “ He really loves mentoring youth and giving them opportunities. He is really an excellent role model.”
Loza has worked on two other murals in Long Beach. He also produces private works of art that are put on display at local art galleries.