ECHO PARK — A small standalone building in Echo Park, located just north of the famed Sunset Boulevard, was neglected for years. With its shabby appearance and vines that crept up its decaying walls, it seemed like an unfitting home for a precious mural for the community. But for decades, this mural was beloved and seen as emblematic of an entire community.

Stretched across a weathered brick wall, this mural, known as “Echo Park/The World,” reflected the diverse cultural fabric of the neighborhood and contributed to the dynamic visual landscape of Echo Park. The mural’s artist, Theresa Powers, won the chance to create the work after winning a 1995 neighborhood competition that then-District 13 Councilmember Jackie Goldberg’s office had held.

The original mural “The World/Echo Park” by Theresa Powers in 1995. (Grassroots Connection website)

Echo Park has been a central point of cultural diversity and creative expression for decades. During the early 1900s, the neighborhood welcomed an influx of immigrants from Mexico, Armenia, and the Philippines. These diverse communities brought with them their vibrant traditions, culinary dishes, and lively cultural celebrations, thus shaping Echo Park’s distinct multicultural heart. 

Adorned with flags representing various countries — including Mexico, China, the Philippines, South Korea, Nicaragua, and Cuba— Powers’s 1995 mural celebrated Echo Park’s diversity and community spirit. It depicted a young boy, Powers’s plumber’s son, holding up a globe and a young girl, her former student, perched on top of the globe. Powers also paid homage to Aimee Semple McPherson, who she called “the outrageous evangelist from EP’s history,” depicted as diving off the Angelus Temple. The mural was a mainstay in the community for almost 30 years.

Theresa Powers’s student models for her. (Theresa Powers / LA Public Press)
Theresa Powers’s plumber’s son, models for her. (Theresa Powers / LA Public Press)

Powers’s mural also reflected various aspects of Echo Park life, including the local flora: cacti, succulents, and bougainvillea that grew in concrete cracks across the city. Along with showing the people and plants of the local community, “Echo Park/The World” also highlighted local infrastructure. It featured a staircase, representing the many staircases dotted across the neighborhood that had initially been built for Angelenos during the Red Car days. These allowed folks to step down from their elevated homes and in from the Red Car stations, which was the most extensive interurban electric transportation system that connected Los Angeles to Pasadena during the early twentieth century. “Echo Park/The World” was painted on the side of the former Phoenix Express Bakery; as an homage to the bakery, the mural also depicted a dragon.

Local community members paint the mural on the wall of the Phoenix Express Bakery. (Theresa Powers / LA Public Press)

In July 2023, Juancarlos Chacón, who grew up in nearby Monterey Park, closed escrow on the property of the former bakery building, hoping to establish his eighth Jersey Mike’s Subs franchise. Shortly after closing escrow, Chacón had a laundry list of tasks to ensure the building was up to code, including painting all the walls, repairing the windows, and addressing various amenities. 

Chacón found the mural on the building to be beautiful but didn’t know much about its history. Before applying the initial coat of paint, he contacted city authorities to try to learn the artist’s identity. He intended to formulate a restoration or re-creation plan once all city inspection requirements were fulfilled. Committed to his responsibility under the Mural Conservancy Act and the federal Visual Artists Rights Act, he sought to notify the artist about the mural’s impending transformation. But to his frustration, the city proved unhelpful, with no pertinent information. 

“There was no one to contact,” Chacón said. He had no choice but to paint over the mural to ensure he completed all required city inspections in a timely manner. The mural that had been an integral part of District 13 for nearly three decades would vanish into obscurity within a few hours.  

“One day, I was driving my usual route, where I’ve seen that mural every day since I was a kid, and it was completely gone,” said Claudia Vazquez, an Echo Park local. “I felt I had to do something about it.”

Taking matters into her own hands, Vazquez scoured the internet for the owner’s information over the following days, only to hit a roadblock, as everything was concealed under the veil of a Limited Liability Company (LLC). “I decided to approach the people working there and ask them who hired them,” Vazquez said. Without hesitation, the building workers gave her Chacón’s cell number.

By this point, Chacón had already contacted Downey-based Chicano artist Sergio Robleto with plans to craft a fresh mural on the same wall. Robleto has a deep understanding and knowledge of the Chicanx art history, which has held and continues to hold a strong presence in Los Angeles. He also has multiple murals peppered across Los Angeles, stamping his legacy in the Chicano art movement.

Meanwhile, Vazquez contacted Powers, who now resides in San Antonio, Texas, and told her about the mural’s impending replacement.

“I am deeply moved that people wrote to me to tell me about it and that they loved the mural,” Powers said in an email to Los Angeles Public Press.

Several days later, Chacón asked Robleto if he would be willing to collaborate with Powers to find a way of paying tribute to the former mural, and he agreed.

A Fresh Mural With A Tribute To The Past

With “Echo Park/The World,” Powers focused on diversity and the tight-knit Echo Park community of the 1990s. In creating a new mural to replace Powers’s work, Robleto said his approach was shaped by keeping Powers’s legacy in mind. “What makes this mural truly unique is that the community’s voice is its essence,” he said. 

In brainstorming sessions with Powers and Vazquez, Robleto understood that Echo Park was a place they held very dear to themselves. Recognizing that one of LA’s oldest neighborhoods had changed and gentrified significantly since 1995, the team aimed to create a piece that paid homage to Echo Park’s past and present. The mural “The World/Echo Park” served as a timestamp of the Echo Park community in the 1990s, and the new mural would be one that shone light on the neighborhood’s history and that resonated with the current area’s vibe.

The backdrop of the new mural, which they titled “No Distance Between Peace,” was historic Elysian Park. It featured classic cars cruising by, paying tribute to Echo Park’s enduring Chicanx car culture. Robleto featured Claudia Vazquez’s father’s car, a cherished 1966 Plymouth Barracuda. The mural also paid homage to the late Kobe Bryant, with the number 24 painted beneath the iconic Dodgers stadium. “Growing up, I always loved and watched Kobe play,” Chacón said. “He was a true representation of the city, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to honor him in this new mural.” In line with the previous mural, Robleto represented world flags, portrayed as shirts this time, symbolizing the multitudes of communities in Echo Park. 

Claudia Vazquez stands with her father Jose de Jesus Vazquez, pictured in the same car that is featured in the new Echo Park mural “No Distance Between Peace.” (Abraham Márquez / LA Public Press)

Robleto also paid tribute to Carlos D. Almaraz, an essential figure in the Chicano art movement. Central to Almarez’s portrayal in the mural is his connection to Echo Park, a motif recurrent in his artwork. “Carlos depicted Echo Park on several occasions in his paintings,” Robleto said. Almaraz was part of the renowned Los Four collective alongside artists like Frank Romero, Roberto “Beto” de la Rocha, and Gilbert Luján. Almaraz greatly elevated Chicano art into the limelight of the mainstream art world at a time when Chicano-Chicana was rarely displaced, recognized, or honored. He was also known for co-founding the Centro de Arte Público in Highland Park. By illustrating Almaraz playing the drums in a Mexican flag shirt, Robleto highlighted the transformative power of rhythm, echoing the profound influence of Chicano art on himself and influential artists like Wayne Healy and David Botello.

Members of Los Four: Frank Romero, Carlos Almaraz, Gilbert Luján, and Robert “Beto” de la Rocha. (PBS Socal)

“I never enter any community where I am going to work on a mural without first engaging with the community,” Robleto said. His professionalism and dedication reflect a deep-seated reverence for his craft. Today, the mural, which honors Powers’s legacy at the intersection of Echo Park Avenue and Montana Street, remains untouched — a testament to Robleto’s investment in fostering connections with the community.

Robleto’s mural in Echo Park. (Abraham Márquez / LA Public Press)