Project: Lake Merritt Mural Project-1987-88
Dimensions: 28/21' feet high by 89 feet wide. 
Medium: Keim silicates on resurfaced masonry
Landscape view of Oakland's Lake Merritt painted on the exterior wall of the auto dealership building at 27th and Broadway, Oakland, California. 

In 1985, after painting the Zebra murals on Broadway, I began trying to find a suitable wall for a project I called "Big Push". There were 25 different wall owners I’d spoken with as potential candidates for murals. I approached Oakland's Cultural Arts Department for funding, but was finally turned down by them, after 18 months spent in the attempt. However, when I gave the prospective mural the new name of the Lake Merritt Mural Project, I reapplied, and this time was awarded the seed funds I needed. 

This was the first large scale project where I worked with Keim Silicates, which had to be imported from Augsberg, Germany, a logistical factor which caused more delays and added costs. Work began in the late summer of 1987, and lasted 8 months, throughout the winter.


As the project was nearing its end, a homeless man approached me to ask for spare change, and ended up spending about an hour there, telling me his life story. Then, for some unknown reason, he reached into his possessions and casually took out a large knife. Standing just a few feet away from me, he began wiping the knife along his pants leg slowly, over and over, all the while staring deeply into my eyes. He concluded by asking if I would move with him into the basement apartment of an abandoned building that he had broken into, an offer which I carefully declined.

In May of 1988, with the help of the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland, a dedication ceremony was held cross the street from the completed mural. A plethora of in-kind donations poured in, and Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson attended and gave a speech. The mural weathered the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake with only one small crack and lasted until 2013, when it was unfortunately painted over, due to circumstances beyond my control. The Lake Merritt Mural Project appeared in numerous articles, books, and even made a brief cameo on the cover of the Oakland City Budget.

Commissioned by the Oakland Redevelopment Agency with donations by Amsterdam Art, L& D Scaffolding, the Alameda County Art Commission, Safeway, Ultra-Lucca delicatessan, Copymat, and the former Tracy Buick dealership.  In addition numerous individual contributions were made by Laurie Grater, Mitch Miles, Jim Tucker. Painting timeline: Seven months. Fiscal agents: Intersection for the Arts and Oakland Festival of the Arts.

My ongoing thanks to Brooke Oliver and her brilliant support staff for their two years of work in defense of the Lake Merritt Mural Project.



Artist sues for $400k after Oakland mural’s destruction


PUBLISHED: August 7, 2015 at 1:16 pm | UPDATED: August 12, 2016 at 1:07 am

OAKLAND — With its puffy white clouds reflected in Lake Merritt’s blue water, Dan Fontes’ acclaimed mural on the side of an auto dealership offered passers-by a bit of tranquility in a town known for tumult. Now, the mural’s untimely destruction has triggered a legal battle that may soon get messier.

Seeking $400,000 in damages, Fontes is suing in federal court the current and past operators of a Nissan dealership on the corner of Broadway and 27th Street, the building where Fontes painted his 98-foot-long ode to Lake Merritt 28 years ago. “It was a deeply loved, widely recognized work of art, and they just came and painted over it like it was nothing,” Fontes’ attorney Brooke Oliver said. “That is flat out illegal.”

One of the defendants, Michael Murphy, who ran the dealership before the mural was completely painted over, is as angry at being sued as Fontes was to find his mural vanished under a coat of white paint.

“I’m so sick of the evil justice system we have,” Murphy, a former Alamo resident, said. “The lawsuit is just a big scam to extort people. It’s unjust, and it’s total baloney.”

But Oliver, who filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court earlier this year, thinks she has a clear-cut copyright violation case.

The Federal Visual Artists Rights Act extends many of the same copyright protections that movie studios and the recording industry have to painters, even if their works are on private property, she said. Building owners must give painters 90 days advance notice to remove their art at their own expense, but apparently the law isn’t widely known or followed.

“We do these cases all the time,” Oliver said, citing a muralist for whom she won a $200,000 settlement after his work, the Lilli Ann mural, was painted over on a building at 17th and Harrison streets in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Fontes, who grew up near Lake Merritt and now lives in San Rafael, has painted numerous murals in Oakland over the years. He also created elaborate murals depicting San Francisco’s Sutro Baths, Cliff House, Playland and other carnival attractions that adorn the walls at the Playland-Not-At-The-Beach museum in El Cerrito.

He received a $35,000 commission to paint the Lake Merritt Mural in 1986, but spent more than 18 months and $100,000 on it.

Aware that a future building owner might not want the mural, Fontes built it atop a cement surface that would have allowed him to move it elsewhere, Oliver said. He even used a special German paint that is also used on dams and nuclear reactors.

“The mural was designed to last 100 years,” she said.

It only lasted 26. The first blow came from taggers. One vandal spray-painted writing near the top of the mural. Then someone obliterated the bottom six feet with beige spray paint.

That was the mural’s condition in August 2013 when Murphy sold the dealership to Autocom Networks, Inc. Autocom changed the dealership’s name to Autocom Nissan of Oakland and painted over the remnants of the mural.

“Considering all the tags on it and all the graffiti, it just wasn’t proper,” Andrees Sharza, the dealership’s former senior sales manager said at the time.

(Close up view of The Lake Merritt Mural on the cover of City of Oakland Adopted Policy Budget)

(Close up view of The Lake Merritt Mural on the cover of City of Oakland Adopted Policy Budget)



                                               (Former Mayor Lionel Wilson with Dan and Marian Fontes-May, 1988)

                                               (Former Mayor Lionel Wilson with Dan and Marian Fontes-May, 1988)

The dealership didn’t return calls this week, nor did building owner Steve Simi. The dealership has offered to let Fontes repaint it, Oliver said, but hasn’t offered to pay for it. “Dan is a professional artist,” she said. “He doesn’t go out and do amazing paintings like that for free.”

Oliver also isn’t ready to let Murphy off the hook. She said Fontes came into the dealership when Murphy still ran it, left his information and said he wanted to repair the mural. Murphy, who still owns Volkswagen of Oakland, said he was still mourning his wife’s death from cancer and focusing on building a charity in her honor at the time — and that he never talked to Fontes. Now, he’s planning to sue the new dealership operator for getting him embroiled in the lawsuit. “He should have been smart enough to know what he was painting over,” Murphy said.  -Matthew Artz SJ Mercury News



Lake Merritt 300.cleaner.jpg
Photo by Andy Kjellgren, Eastbay Express Oct. 20, 2000

Photo by Andy Kjellgren, Eastbay Express Oct. 20, 2000