ESCONDIDO — Plans for a new mural at the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum were paused again following local historians’ fears the new artwork would cover a piece of the town’s history in dire need of preservation.
For nearly three years, a large white canvas on the front of the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum has covered the city’s first mural, created in 1970 by artist Frank Matranga, depicting a scene from the Battle of San Pasqual.
While some similar murals still exist throughout the city, many of Escondido’s oldest murals have been destroyed. According to the University of Southern California, the “Battle of San Pasqual” mural was rescued from the Escondido Sears Department Store before its demolition in the early 1990s.
The white canvas was placed over the mural when the museum acquired the building in 2011 at the city’s request to save the older mural underneath for possible preservation. The museum hoisted vinyl prints of artwork over the white canvas using a pulley system but stopped this practice following a storm in 2020 that blew the last display down.
On Jan. 9, museum representatives presented their mural concept, which would go directly on the canvas, to the Public Art Commission for a third time to acquire city funding for the mural.
“We would love to add some bright color that represents who we are as the Children’s Discovery Museum,” said Heather Disher, director of the advancement at the museum.
The museum even brought its request for mural funding down from approximately $26,000 to $19,500, including artist fees, installation, and labor costs.
However, the Historic Preservation Commission members want the Public Art Commission to hold a joint meeting to discuss the significance of the older mural underneath the canvas and potentially find a way to fund its preservation.
While preservation could include moving the mural, there is also a big chance that doing so would permanently damage or destroy it.
The museum considers its new mural as a current top priority. While the older mural has some historical significance, the museum owns the building, and some public art commissioners feel the battle scene is inappropriate for how the museum serves the community.
“It’s a battle,” said Public Art chair Ana Marie Velasco. “It doesn’t go with the Children’s Discovery Museum.”
Still, others like Commissioner Patricia Spann argued that the canvas hides an essential piece of city history.
“Escondido as a whole is a historic town,” Spann said. “We can’t lose our history, and we can’t just hide it… What’s on the canvas is important but what’s behind the canvas is just as important.”
Historic Preservation Commission chair James Spann emphasized his desire to have a joint meeting with the Public Art Commission before making a mural decision as soon as possible.
“We need to understand what we can do and what we’re covering up,” Spann said.
According to City Clerk Zack Beck, the earliest such a meeting could happen is in February, but Andrew Firestine, the city’s development services director, must approve the joint meeting first.
Public Art vice chair Juan Vargas voiced his discomfort with the cost as another concern about the mural. However, Vargas noted that the museum is a nonprofit that likely has other donors who could help pay for a portion of the mural instead of the city paying for the entire thing.
“They’re a philanthropic organization… they could find other sources,” Vargas said. “I would be open to assisting with funding but not paying for the whole thing.”
Disher noted that the museum relies on philanthropic support through donations and fundraisers and uses the bulk of its funding to provide educational programming in Escondido’s elementary schools, libraries and other outlets that provide educational enrichment for children.
“At this time, we don’t receive a dollar from the city of Escondido,” Disher said.
The Public Art Commission ultimately voted to delay its decision on the museum’s mural until a joint meeting with the Historic Preservation Commission commences. A date has yet to be set for the joint session.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the “Battle of San Pasqual” to Robert Dunitz. The artwork was created by Frank Matranga. We regret the error.