San Jose

San Jose Residents Want to Save Beloved Neighborhood Mural

NBC Universal, Inc.

It's déjà vu for another San Jose community.

The Washington district said it got word that a new property owner is about to paint over a treasured neighborhood mural. A similar incident occurred on Story Road in San Jose three years ago.

This latest battle has local leaders fighting back.

The mural is on a vacant building on South First Street in the heart of the Washington district. Neighbors said the new owner told them he needs to remodel the place before high tech workers arrive and that the mural has to go before then.

The walls is adorned with the images of Cesar Chavez and revolutionary hero Emilano Zapata. It was created at a time when gang violence was spiking in the Washington district.

"Since the mural went up, the problems went away," Guadalupe-Washington Neighborhood Association President Rosalina Aguilar said.

Also on the mural is the image of the late Brenda Lopez, a teenager who rolled up her sleeves to get the local children off the streets by teaching them dance.

"She was a great role model to all the kids in the community," said Mike Lopez, Brenda's brother. "That's why it's so important to the family and the community."

But the city has no advised neighbors that the new property owner plans to remodel the building, and part of the remodel means painting over the mural.

"I haven't cried yet. I haven't cried," Aguilar said. "I mean honestly, this is really upsetting to me."

Aguilar said in a Zoom meeting with the owner, Jaeson Le, he said the mural might not be appropriate for the new tenants.

"He thought that some of the art ... it looked like it might be related to gangs," Aguilar said.

NBC Bay Area has reached out to the new owner, first using a phone number he provided to neighborhood representatives. The person who answered said we had the wrong number.

NBC Bay Area then e-mailed him for a response and have not heard back.

"It's heartbreaking," said Nancy Lopez, Brenda's sister. "It feels like its dishonoring everything my sister did."

A similar mural was painted over in East San Jose in 2018, creating community uproar.

Now city rules require the artist must be alerted 90 days before that happens. Neighbors said the artist got his notice on Oct. 1.

"Every community has its heroes," Nancy Lopez said. "Brenda just happened to be one of them in this community."

In a statement, Councilman Raul Peralez said, “This mural brings vibrancy and inspiration to the neighborhood. As an incoming neighbor, the property owner should want to work with the community to integrate his business and help preserve the neighborhood's character. Despite the attempts from my office to communicate the importance of this mural with the owner, it has been disappointing that they have decided to continue to paint over the mural.”

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