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Colorado's Chicano murals included on list of nation's most endangered historic places
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“La Alma,” painted by Emanuel Martinez in 1978, is a mural on an exterior wall of La Alma Recreation Center at 11th and Mariposa. It is now considered endangered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“La Alma,” painted by Emanuel Martinez in 1978, is a mural on an exterior wall of La Alma Recreation Center at 11th and Mariposa. It is now considered endangered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Photo: Julio Sandoval, Rocky Mountain PBS

DENVER — The nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation has released its annual report of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places,” and this year’s list includes pieces of Colorado history.

The list includes five Colorado murals — three of which are in Denver — that were created by Chicano artists.

“These murals are enduring artistic expressions of cultural identity and are powerful representations of history, creativity, and pride,” National Trust Chief Preservation Officer Katherine Malone-France said in a news release. “These murals should be recognized as significant contributions to our American cultural landscape that help ensure that our country’s full story is told.”

The murals are:

  • In San Luis, “San Luis-Sierras y Colores,” by Carlos Sandoval, painted in 1986, commemorates the oldest town in Colorado, San Luis de la Culebra, founded in the 1840s by Hispano settlers when the area was still part of Mexico.
  • In Pueblo’s Plaza Verde Park, a 1978 mural by Leo Lucero, symbolizes the spirit of the Indigenous people and the land before colonialism.
  • In Denver, on 8th Avenue between Federal and Decatur, 2008’s “Huitzilopochtli,” by David Ocelotl Garcia uses symbolism to represent spiritual philosophies specific to the healing of the mind, body and soul.
  • In Denver at 2700 Larimer St., a 2020 mural by Alicia Cardenas symbolizes taking down statutes and representations of the history “we thought we knew,” to empower those harmed by it.
  • Finally, in Denver at 1325 W. 11th Ave (La Alma Recreation Center), Emanuel Martinez’s 1978 “La Alma,” commemorates the birthplace of the Chicano Mural Movement in Colorado that began in the La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood. Specifically, the mural celebrates the legacy of Indigenous and mestizo descendants over the past and present, and seeks to inspire youth to create a promising future.

 

According to History Colorado, which provided the descriptions above, the murals "were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s, which used art as a means to educate young people and citizens-at-large about the significant contributions of Hispanos, Chicanos, Mexican Americans, and Latinos to American society. The Chicano Movement seeks to address civil rights, land rights, labor rights, educational equity and equal representation, and artist-activists have helped to create murals in Latinx neighborhoods to inspire pride and strengthen community."

[Watch: Colorado Experience: Justicia y Libertad]

Alicia Cardenas, a muralist and tattoo artist who painted the mural on Larimer Street, was killed by a gunman in December of 2021.

The Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project (CMCP), nominated the murals for the “11 Most” list. For years, CMCP has been working to preserve Chicano street art in Colorado. CMCP also maintains a mural mapping project of Chicano murals in the Denver Metro area.

The preservation of the other historic places on this year’s “11 Most” list are threatened by things like climate change or, in the case of Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama, termites. But these Colorado murals face a different kind of invasion: gentrification.

“The Chicano/a/x community believes that erasure of these murals is more than a loss of artwork, it is an erasure of cultural identity and a signal that Chicano/a/x heritage ‘does not matter.’ In many instances, the murals were created by the community, for the community—literally illustrating the significance of these neighborhoods,” CMCP director Lucha Martinez said in the release. “The murals represent the memory of a people. They say ‘I am here’ and validate voices who are facing ever fewer cultural support systems.”

Preservationists and historians are hopeful that the Chicano murals’ inclusion on the “11 Most” list will strengthen efforts to preserve the artwork, which is also at risk of deterioration due to Colorado’s harsh climate.

“As muralists of the Chicano movement age or pass away, there is limited time to restore original murals, and some have already been lost or painted over,” History Colorado added.

[Related: The Constant Artist: CHAC co-founder Stevon Lucero's work lives on]

You can read this year’s “11 Most” list here.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has compiled lists endangered sites every year since 1988. Several Colorado locations were included on previous lists:

  • Archaeological Treasures of the Colorado Plateau, 1995
  • Black Hawk and Central City, 1998
  • Mesa Verde National Park, 1998
  • Red Mountain Mining District, 2000
  • Telluride Valley Floor, 2001
  • Piñon Canyon, 2007
  • Larimer Square, 2018

 

The full list dating back to 1988 is available here.


Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager for Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

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