Sunday, February 24, 2013

History and Loss

I rode my bike out past the Hunt Branch Library, past the old Hunt-Wesson corporate offices, and the grounds around them, where in 1964 Norton Simon wanted to build his world-class art museum, but Fullerton City Council was too conservative (and possibly anti-Semitic) so now the grounds are mostly vacant, and homeless people sleep in tents near the edges.  

Across the street, I get off my bike and stare at Norton Simon's old office, one of Fullerton's forgotten art deco treasures, now vacant and paint peeling and a lonely cop car sits parked behind it.

And in my mind's eye, I can envision what could have been on this now-forgotten stretch of real estate, the sculptures, art exhibits, plays, concerts, families and children visiting and learning and being inspired.

And in these lonely neglected grounds I feel memory and anger, and in my gut I feel the loss, the generations of people denied culture because five old conservative dudes said, "Nay."

And in the pit of my stomach I feel the ache of this loss, the same loss inflicted 25 years earlier when the school board voted to paint over the second-largest WPA fresco in America, Charles Kassler's "Pastoral California."  And with that vote, denied sixty graduating classes of students access to this piece of cultural and social history.

And in the faces on the mural I see the memory and the anger, waiting patiently for sixty years under layers of whitewash, praying, "How long, O Lord?  How long?" except probably in Spanish because that's why the mural was painted over.  It was too "Mexican" in an Anglo town.

And I feel an angry powerlessness, like you feel in a dream, or nightmare, when you see some great injustice happening but your hands are like a ghost's hands and all your sound and fury cannot stop what's already happened.

We pay for the crimes of our ancestors.  In the case of "Pastoral California", about $80,000.

In the case of these desolate Norton Simon buildings, the loss is literally incalculable.

I ride home with two history books in my book bag, singing to myself and to these silent streets, "Learn, learn, learn…remember, remember, remember."

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