Great Wall of Los Angeles

Great Wall of Los Angeles. Los Angeles Explorers Guild.

Great Wall of Los Angeles

In North Hollywood you can view a painted mural that tells the entire history of Los Angeles along a half-mile stretch of a flood control channel.

The Great Wall of Los Angeles, officially titled The History of California, is a mural in North Hollywood’s Tujunga Greenbelt Park. It runs for half a mile (3,200 meters) along the western wall of the Tujunga Wash Flood Control channel between Oxnard Street and Burbank Boulevard.

The mural starts at the corner of Oxnard Street and Coldwater Canyon Avenue and depicts a chronological series of events that affected the development of the Los Angeles region, beginning with Pre-Historic California (about 20,000 years ago), the La Brea Tar Pits, and the early villages of the Chumash people. It continues chronologically through California history, highlighting events like the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill and the California Gold Rush, the Los Angeles Red Car period, World War I and World War II, the California Aqueduct, the development of Suburbia, the Red Scare, the Birth of Rock & Roll and into the late 1950s.

The Red Car section of The Great Wall of Los Angeles. Photo from the author’s collection.

The last section of the wall was painted in 1984, painted in conjunction with that year’s Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and features a section titled “Olympic Champions: Breaking Barriers 1964-1984.”

While the story the wall tells includes a number of significant events and historical figures, many of the sections focus on the struggles faced by the indigenous people and the different diverse and marginalized communities that helped build California, including Unsigned Indian Treaties, the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the deportation of 500,000 Mexican Americans, the Japanese Internment Camps, the Division of the Barrios & Chavez Ravine (where Mexican-American residents were removed to make way for Dodger Stadium), the Zoot Suit Riots, and the struggles for Civil Rights and Gay Rights.

The Japanese Internment section of The Great Wall of Los Angeles. Photo from the author’s collection.

The Great Wall of Los Angeles, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, began as an idea from Judy Baca, noted Chicana muralist and UCLA professor. She co-founded the organization Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) to help bring her idea to life. She coordinated more than 400 muralists (mostly teenagers), oral historians, ethnologists, and community members to paint the 86 different scenes that comprise the mural’s story. The work took place between 1976 and 1983.

The History of California: Big Changes Coming

At 13.5 feet high and 2,754 feet long (that’s 37,179 square feet of artwork), the Great Wall of Los Angeles is one of the largest murals in the world — and soon it will be much longer.

The 500,000 Mexican Americans Deported section of The Great Wall of Los Angeles. Photo from the author’s collection.

The mural has recently been made part of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project and was granted $5 million for preservation and expansion of this landmark work of public art. This three-year grant will allow Baca to continue developing the mural and expanding it to a full mile in length. As this work unfolds, the story of Los Angeles will be updated to include events of the last 70 years.

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The panels for the 1960s, featuring topics like the Sit-In at Woolworth’s the March on Washington, the Chicano Movement, and Vietnam have already been planned. The wall has been telling the story of Los Angeles for almost 50 years, and I look forward to seeing its new stories as the mural is updated to the modern era.

In addition to the funding that will help continue the mural, the legacy of the Great Wall of Los Angeles has also been preserved. The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art recently acquired The History of California Archive, a collection of sketches, plans, and drawings that illustrate the development process that Baca’s team went through when originally creating the wall.

Learn more about the Great Wall of Los Angeles and plans for its future expansion at the SPARC website.

Header image: detail from The Great Wall of Los Angeles. Photo from the author’s collection.

More Murals from Judy Baca

Great Wall of Los Angeles

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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