SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The artist of a mural at a Barrio Logan school that was destroyed during a construction project is suing San Diego Unified School District, saying the work could have been preserved.
In a lawsuit filed this week, artist Salvador Roberto Torres alleged that he only found out the district planned to destroy the mural he created at Memorial Junior High School as part of ongoing improvements to the campus not long before it was removed on Sept. 23, 2020.
"For several years prior to September 2020, the school district planned to substantially raze the Memorial Junior High campus and rebuild a new school. Only immediately before the destruction was Plaintiff made aware of plans that included destroying the mural, and that awareness was not because of any notification by the school district," the lawsuit alleges.
The 75-foot by 45-foot mural was installed in 1988, according to the suit, and Torres was commissioned by the school district to create it.
The suit says that the community and Torres requested that the district save the mural and that it "could have been removed by readily available mural-removal methods, including the age-old Strappo technique which only requires removing the film or outermost layer of the surface composed of paint."
San Diego Unified told ABC 10News last year that it had taken high-definition photos of the mural in order to display those photos on the new campus. Torres's lawsuit alleged that was never authorized by him and would "infringe the copyright in the mural, exclusively held by Plaintiff, by making or having unauthorized, bogus copies made."
At the time, the district added that they didn't want to remove Torres' mural down, but had to because the asbestos in the walls was so bad. Advocates for the artists argued that the mural could still be moved. The district also said the new campus would ultimately better the community with improved infrastructure and there will be space for new murals.
Torres is seeking monetary damages and a jury trial. His lawsuit also names the construction company, Balfour Beatty Construction, LLC, involved in removing the mural.
A spokesperson for the San Diego Unified School District said they are not able to comment on pending litigation, but shared the following statement:
The Logan Memorial Educational Complex project is historic and will benefit the community for decades to come. With the goals of creating a new learning environment that all students deserve, these neighboring, outdated campuses are being converted into a comprehensive educational facility, the Logan Memorial Educational Campus.
The facility will feature individual areas for 1) infants, toddlers, and pre-K; 2) TK – 6th grade; 3) 7th – 8th grade; and 4) 9th – 12th grade, bringing the first public high school to Logan Heights.
Additional features include athletic and recreation fields and hardcourts, and a wellness center that will support the community with health education, legal representation access, and dental and counseling services.
Led by a new director and supported by two principals, the new campus will host a first of its kind Prenatal to Career Montessori-based program.
Recognizing the area’s rich public art and mural history, new public art and spaces for future public art are built into the new facilities currently under construction. One mural is being preserved in its current location. We have preserved another existing mural in high definition digital format and are in the process of filing that copy with both the San Diego History Center and the UCSB Library Special Research Collections. A third mural on panels was removed from an interior wall for future relocation on campus. Finally, we intend to reproduce a fourth mural on panels for display on campus.
The first phase of construction is nearly complete. The district anticipates the entire Logan Memorial Educational Complex project to complete in the spring of 2023. Once completed, the district plans on having new murals painted on removable panels/surfaces so that those murals can be easily preserved, removed and replaced when new renovation or construction projects are needed at the school.
San Diego Unified does not comment on pending litigation.