‘Hitting the Wall’ — Restored!

Hitting the Wall — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

‘Hitting the Wall’ — Restored!

An epic 1984-era mural celebrating the first women’s Olympic marathon has recently been uncovered in Downtown Los Angeles.

Back in 1984, the City of Los Angeles was promoting the heck out of the fact that it was hosting the 1984 Summer Olympics. It hired 10 artists to paint murals celebrating the city playing host to the Olympic Games.

One of those muralists was Judy Baca (observant Explorers will recall she’s also responsible for the Great Wall of Los Angeles), and she painted a mural titled “Hitting the Wall: Women and the Marathon” on the concrete retaining wall under the 4th Street overpass along the northbound 110 Freeway.

‘Hitting the Wall: Women and the Marathon’ restoration in progress. Photo from the author’s collection.

Baca’s mural featured a female runner, painted in bright orange hues, triumphantly breaking a length of finish-line tape. The mural, which stands at 100 feet long and 25 feet high, not only celebrated the introduction of the Women’s Marathon to the roster of Summer Olympics events, but also signifies the breaking of barriers.

Related …

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.

A Target for Graffiti

In the years since the 1984 Olympic Games, the mural has attracted more than its fair share of graffiti. Interestingly, CalTrans won’t clean graffiti off of murals. The agency has a policy in place that requires muralists to clean the graffiti off their own work. So while CalTrans workers will regularly remove graffiti from plain concrete walls, they will ignore tagging on murals.

In the wake of graffiti vandalization, the mural has undergone a few different restoration efforts led by Baca over the years (2007, 2012). In 2013 the mural was partially “washed out” — the bottom half was covered over by a graffiti-abatement crew (allegedly; no one took credit).

Then, in 2019, rather than figure out a way to preserve and protect the mural, the powers-that-be decided to cover it in 10 layers of gray, graffiti-resistant paint — without giving Baca the required 90-day notification as mandated in the Visual Artists Rights Act.

Detail of ‘Hitting the Wall’ (from the right side). Photo from the author’s collection.

Restoration Efforts

At the end of June 2021, after reaching a settlement to restore the mural (with L.A. Metro and CalTrans footing the bill), the Social and Public Art Resource Center’s mural rescue crew, under Baca’s guidance, started blasting away at this gray paint to reveal the colorful mural beneath.

The colorful central image of ‘Hitting the Wall.’ Photo from the author’s collection.

How to See ‘Hitting the Wall’

You can see the brightly colored ‘Hitting the Wall’ yourself from the 110 Freeway. It’s a bit hidden under the 4th Street overpass above the 110, but you can get the best view by traveling north on the 110 and taking the 3rd/4th Street exit. But it’s a freeway exit, so you’ll pass it quickly. You can’t stop here to take a look at it.

You can also see it if you look to south as you’re driving along the 110. Traffic along this stretch of freeway is usually crawling along at around 20 miles per hour, so a glance over should net you a quick, if somewhat distant view, of the mural.

“Hitting the Wall” as seen from the southbound 110 Freeway. Photo from the author’s collection.

If you’re not on the freeway — or if you want to take a longer look at it — you can kind of see it from 4th Street if you’re above it, standing on the overpass on the north side of the freeway. But it’s very much obscured by the overpass from above.

If you’re bold and want to see this mural up close, you can stand under the overpass. The easiest access is to walk along the 3rd Street exit southbound (from Figueroa) and then cut across the vegetation-covered embankment. This will allow you to walk adjacent to the freeway all the way to a small traffic island under the 4th Street overpass. We can’t recommend this route though — cars come off the 110 very fast and to see the mural you’ll be standing right at a blind curve.

LAXG: Hitting the Wall Mural, Blind Curve
The cars come fast around the blind curve that is the 4th Street exit. Photo from the author’s collection.

It’s a really beautiful mural. My only real complaint about it is that it’s very hard to fully enjoy it from almost any vantage point that doesn’t require an elevated risk of being hit by a speeding vehicle.

If you’re interested in seeing how Baca created this mural back in 1984, there are a few images of the process over at Judy Baca’s Portfolio.

‘Hitting the Wall’ Mural

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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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