Retired Coronado Public Library director Christian Esquevin was the guest speaker at the Coronado Roundtable’s October meeting at the library’s Winn Room. His insightful presentation included images of the beautiful murals by the famed Mexican artist Ramos Martinez that once adorned the walls of the La Avenida Café. Painted in 1938, the frescos were nearly destroyed when the restaurant was demolished after closing. That many were saved was described as a miracle. One, which had been covered with wallpaper, was accidentally discovered during demolition. Another treasured work was damaged by smoke from a fire accidentally set when gasoline reportedly was used as a solvent to remove old carpeting which adhered to the floor.
The murals, painted on the plaster walls of the café, were unmounted during demolition, crated and transported out of Coronado to the Los Angeles area. Some were restored in the Howard Hughes aviation facility in Playa Vista. In 1992, they were offered to the Coronado Library, then under construction, but the offer had to be declined for lack of funds. They were subsequently donated to the City of San Diego and put up for sale. One mural had already been purchased by a Hollywood producer. Another work, Canasta de Flores, was restored in Beverly Hills and offered for $150,000. The library managed to obtain it at a lesser price, thanks to the generosity of Friends of the Library. Since library construction was still ongoing, it was temporarily stored in a jail cell at the former Coronado police headquarters.
The massive mural, El Dia del Mercato had to be installed before construction was completed because of its size and measures taken to resist possible damage from earthquakes. It barely fit through the front entrance of the library. Nathan Zakheim was in charge of the complex and expert restoration effort. Coronadans are fortunate that so much of the treasured work was recovered and restored.
Ramos Martinez (1871-1946) was a portrait painter and a versatile artist who mastered several styles and techniques. As a young man he attended the Academy of Fine Arts and was discovered by Phoebe Hearst who sponsored his studies in France where he studied with Pablo Picasso. He preferred painting in the open outdoors and was noted for his impressionist landscapes. His La Primavera won the Gold Prize at the Paris Salon in 1906. His Flores de Mexico, an oil on canvas, sold at auction in 2007 for $4 million. One of his many famous paintings, Head of Woman, was painted on newsprint because newsprint was all that was handy at that particular moment. He liked the result so well that he continued to use newsprint for some of his work.
Christian Esquevin served as director of the Coronado Public Library for three decades and was instrumental in its major expansion and reconstruction and for the restoration, acquisition and installation of the El Dia del Mercado and the acquisition of the Canasta de Flores work. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a Master’s Degree in Library Science. He was introduced by Roundtable President, Kirk Henry who presided over the live meeting which was also live streamed. The Coronado Roundtable presents prominent speakers on a variety of topics at its monthly meetings on the fourth Friday of every month except November and December. The November meeting is on the third Friday and there is no December meeting. Meetings begin at 10 a.m. in the Winn Room of the Coronado Public Library and the public is cordially invited.
Come early and join your neighbors for coffee.