When I was growing taller in Kingsville, Texas, back in the 1960s, the public library was just three blocks from our house. I used to spend hours in that building. It was all about books, and I think I read every book they had in the eight years I lived in Kingsville.
Libraries are much, much more in today’s world. They not only have books, they have magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, special children’s areas, and computers with Internet access. They have special exhibits on local themes or time-relevant themes (like the Olympics). They even have art! Permanent displays of art!
From January 2003 to June 2005, the Coronado Public Library was expanded. Lots of construction going on, and the result is gorgeous. Upon entering the library lobby, a huge mural stretching 48 feet greets you:
Titled “El Dia del Mercado,” that fresco mural was painted by Alfredo Ramos Martinez, a Mexican painter and art teacher born in Monterey, Mexico, in 1872. During the height of his career, his work was collected by costume designer Edith Head and Hollywood celebrities Alfred Hitchcock, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, and others.
Surviving murals by Martinez are rare, and the Coronado Public Library happens to have two of them. Here is the other one, titled “La Canasta de Flores”:
Martinez began art study at the age of twelve at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes. In 1897, Phoebe Hearst, the mother of William Randolph Hearst of San Francisco Examiner and Hearst Castle fame, sponsored Martinez so he could study art in Paris, France.
The mural was commissioned by Albert Bram in 1938 for the La Avenida Café in Coronado. It resided in the main dining room opposite the front doors and incorporated three interior doorways, which you can see as cutouts in the panorama picture above.
La Avenida Café became a popular dining destination for local residents as well as visitors to the Hotel del Coronado. Hollywood stars such as Errol Flynn and Marilyn Monroe often dined at the Café. A most popular dish was the “Jack Salad,” created by Jack Clapp, who claimed to be one of the co-inventors of the Caesar salad at Caesar’s Restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico.
The fresco murals of the Café were integral parts of the interior walls of the restaurant, and the murals themselves became a popular attraction. La Avenida Café closed in 1990 and the property was sold to developers intent on destroying the building and the murals to build a large hotel. Ultimately the murals were rescued and restored.
In 1992 the Coronado Public Library was approached with the idea of displaying “El Dia del Mercado” there. The Library rejected the gift because there was no room for it. The Coronado City Council accepted it and put it into storage.
Plans to expand the Library began in 1995, and the final design was approved in September 2002. Construction began in January 2003 with expansion completed in June 2005. During that time, beginning in 1998, the Library planners made the display of El Dia del Mercado a paramount objective. Displaying such a large and fragile fresco mural would require new engineering techniques, but the engineers, architects, and builders were up to the task.
The story of “La Canasta de Flores” is equally fascinating. It had been covered in layers of wallpaper and paint. We know the covering took place sometime after 1952 since there is a 1952 photograph of the Café’s manager, Walter Suter, showing the mural in the background. The mural was uncovered by Café owner Gus Theberge while doing interior renovations in the early 1990s. Theberge hired Nathan Zakheim, a mural expert and art conservator in Los Angeles, to remove and restore the mural.
After “La Canasta de Flores” was restored, Gus and his wife, Barbara, put it up for sale at a gallery in Los Angeles. When the Coronado Library Director found out, he initiated discussions between Gus and Barbara, the Library administration, the Library Board, and the Friends of the Library to acquire the mural before it sold to another buyer. An agreement and financing terms were reached, with the mural being purchased on October 22, 2001.
Both murals were installed in the renovated and expanded Coronado Public Library which opened its doors on June 10, 2005. Libraries are about more than just books.
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