A Lost Mosaic Re-emerges

Shortly after Rockwell Properties acquired 249 Ocean in Long Beach, Calif., representatives realized that a cultural treasure came with their purchase: a mosaic mural designed by Susan Lautmann Hertel and executed by Dennis O’Connor, both with Millard Sheets’ legendary design firm. However, it was a hidden treasure, having been painted over several years ago. Now, with the help of International City Bank, Hertel’s creation is being revealed—or re-revealed—to the community.

An uncovered mosaic designed by Millard Sheets & Associates Designs reflects the history of the community.

An uncovered mosaic designed by Millard Sheets & Associates Designs reflects the history of the community.

“I wasn’t even aware the artwork existed prior to purchasing the building,” says Rockwell representative Edward Ahdoot. “Through one of my tenants, and then through further conversations with Alan Burks, I learned about the story behind the painted-over mural.”

After careful study, Ahdoot and his team determined the restoration methods that would best maintain the gorgeous mosaic’s integrity. As the work progresses, the removal of the top layer of paint is revealing vibrant and beautiful tesserae. The mosaic is in excellent condition; over the years, the elastomeric paint overlay seems to have acted as a protective coating. Only 2 percent of the original material is missing—tiles that may have already fallen off prior to the mosaic being painted over.

“We appreciate how the city of Long Beach embraces the arts and its community,” Ahdoot says. “For us to be able to bring the artwork back from obscurity and share it with the public is an honor.”

BEFORE: The entrance of International City Bank had been hiding a mosaic under white elastomeric paint in the panel above the double doors.

BEFORE: The entrance of International City Bank had been hiding a mosaic under white elastomeric paint in the panel above the double doors.

A close-up of the painted-over panel reveals the shapes and sizes of the mosaic beneath. Traditionally, pieces produced by Millard Sheets & Associates Designs reflect the history of the community. Hertel’s mural depicts a succession of Long Beach inhabitants. At the far left are the Tongva people, the area’s original inhabitants. To their right are Mexican and European farmers and ranchers, shown with livestock and dancing in celebration. Further to the right are roughnecks and oil rigs with the Queen Mary, representing Long Beach’s later development, in the upper right.

Upon completion of the restoration, the general public will be invited to a grand unveiling to welcome this local treasure back into the community.

This post was shared with retrofit by Environ Architecture Inc.

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