The school that sits at the busy corner of Lincoln and Ocean Park Boulevards in Santa Monica was first built in the 1920s as an elementary school, named for environmentalist John Muir. It’s covered on two sides with a mural of the Muir Woods, painted in his honor back in 1978. For decades now, the structure has housed Olympic High School, a small city-run school for at-risk youth.
After making do with the physical plant they inherited years ago, Olympic is about to get a much-needed $5.5 million makeover inside, and if principal Dr. Janie Gates has her way, outside, too. “We would like to come up with a new image and repaint it,” she told me as we stood outside the fading depiction of redwoods.
Dr. Gates would like to see something that reflects the school’s current name, and the local community. Her goal is to include input from Olympic students, so they can feel ownership of their school.
Enter the activists, spearheaded by Jerry Rubin. They’ve been organizing to push Dr. Gates to preserve the mural, rather than to paint over it. Last weekend a group of about 20 supporters stood outside, urging passersby to sign a giant “Save the Mural” card.
Artist Jane Golden, who, after leaving Santa Monica became a well-known mural expert heading up a program called Mural Arts in Philadelphia, says she sees where both sides are coming from. She said she hopes to see a win-win compromise.