Project: Luther Burbank Mural - 2004
Dimensions: Approximately 21' x 21'
Medium: Acrylics on stucco
Location: 65th near MacArthur, on former Luther Burbank Elementary, Oakland
Patricia Durham, a donor, activist, and all-around wonderful person who cares deeply about Oakland, called me about doing a mural at the Luther Burbank Elementary School. Burbank was a challenging school, with low academic scores, in an underserved area of the city.
They had a large wall next to the entrance of the school, with a school garden directly across from it. But, like many schools named after an inspiring figure, it didn't have a convenient way to acquaint the new arrivals to the school with its founder. The school was named after Luther Burbank, a pioneering botanist and horticulturist who had lived his life in Northern California. As with most murals, lots of research was needed, and in the course of reading about the life and numerous accomplishments of Burbank, it became clear to me just how ephemeral fame can be.
Burbank was a celebrity on a par with Bill Gates in his time, but now his star has faded almost completely away. A few buildings and institutions are named after him, but he's not particularly well-known nowadays.
I spoke with Ingrid Good, a friend and associate on many projects, and she put together a design that included many of the key elements of Burbank's life and career. Then, over the course of about a month, we brought the mural into being.
One particularly difficult weekend still stands out in my mind: 4th of July, 2004. Vandals had broken into the Burbank School, stealing equipment, breaking computers and throwing paint around. One of the janitors later told me that about $65,000-$70,000 in damage was done over that holiday weekend. Outside, my job site lockbox had survived intact, but bullet casings, fireworks, condoms and broken liquor bottles littered the playground. A few weeks after we had finished the project, a decision was made to close 5 or 6 schools, and the Luther Burbank school was one of them. We were stunned and deeply saddened.
A few weeks ago, I revisited the mural to see if anything was left, and I'm happy to report that the painting is in fine shape.
“Burbank Elementary School was a K-6th public school, located in the Millsmont neighborhood of East Oakland, and was a part of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).
Burbank School was closed by the Oakland Unified School District in 2004. The following fall, East Oakland Community High School was opened on Burbank's campus, and was later moved to King Estates, where it was subsequently closed by OUSD.
Explore Academy, a middle school. was opened the next school year on the Burbank campus. The OUSD school board voted in December 2009 to close Explore Middle School at the end of the school year, because of low enrollment.
In September 2010, Burbank Preschool Center was opened.”