Project: Zebra Murals aka Animural - 1983 / 2016
Medium: Oils on Concrete
Dimensions: 18' x 150' Each animal is between 4' / 13' wide by 12' / 14' tall
Location: Broadway at 34th Street, near Mosswood Park, Oakland

Artist Dan Fontes' Iconic Freeway Zebra Mural Gets New Life


July 6, 2016 at 7:58 am

OAKLAND — Ronald Reagan was president. More than 40 musicians, including Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen recorded “We are the World,” an album that raised millions of dollars for famine relief in Africa. A gallon of gas cost $1.09.

A lot has changed since 1985. But one thing that has endured are the zebra murals painted by a then-young, unknown artist named Dan Fontes beneath a freeway overpass in downtown Oakland. Over the course of three decades, the larger-than-life figures that have delighted two generations have taken a serious beating. Sun, rain and graffiti taggers have marred the original artwork of five zebras grazing in various poses.

So in June, Fontes, now a celebrated muralist whose work adorns public walls all over the East Bay, returned to one of his earliest public art pieces to restore the zebras to their former splendor. He has launched a GoFundMe site to help cover the cost of the restoration. So far, he’s raised $9,190 toward his $25,000 goal. The funds will go toward oil paint and other supplies, as well as stipends for Fontes and his assistants.

“I’m 57, so if I don’t do it now, I’m not going to do it,” Fontes said. “Climbing that scaffold is not something you want to do when you hit your 60s and 70s.”

On a recent afternoon, Fontes stood perched atop the tall metal scaffold beneath the Highway 580 overpass on Broadway, paintbrush in hand. He worked on a 14-foot zebra as a continuous, deafening rush of traffic went by.

Fontes said the restoration process is much more involved than the initial design and painting.

“This is one of the reasons I haven’t been back,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a monster to do.”

First step, the wall has to be cleaned because paint doesn’t adhere well to oil or grease. Then, he must scrape off all of the chips. Some of the animals are so damaged, they are missing entire chunks.


Then, those areas must be primed two or three times to smooth them out. Next comes an undercoat, followed by a thick coat of oil paint. After that, Fontes must apply a thick anti-graffiti coat.


“What it does is, it almost lays a sheet of glass on top so if there is graffiti, you can come back in with solvent and pull the graffiti off,” Fontes said. ” It’s like a sacrificial layer. Then come in with anti-graffiti varnish.”

Even as he was working to restore the zebras, taggers painted over one figure with pink paint that had to be removed. Fontes hadn’t yet had a chance to apply 

the anti-graffiti varnish. Yet he doesn’t dwell on the fact that thoughtless taggers wipe out hours of his work. He chooses to focus on the outpouring of goodwill he has received since he began the restoration. “This really feels like a community thing,” Fontes said. “People who have given money for the project come down and say they want to meet me in person. People have given me food.”

The zebra mural is down the street from Kaiser Permanente Hospital’s pediatric center. Fontes is especially delighted that children — some of whom are coping with serious health challenges — will see it.

“When you spend time here, you realize all these SUVs and minivans they’re all full of kids going to the pediatric center,” he said. “In a way, these paintings are for those children.”

Natasha Miller, 6, was out walking with her father and younger sister and stopped in front of the mural for a good long look.

“They’re great,” she said. “A few days ago we went here and now he’s onto the third, the fourth zebra, when he was on the two just a few days ago. That’s pretty quick!”

Her father, Oakland resident Mike Miller, echoed his appreciation.

“To me, this would be a sort of sad place you’d want to be getting through as quickly as possible,” he said. “And instead, it’s this lovely, cool art. It’s so fun to see the progress and see them come back to life.”

Fontes expects it will take him until mid-August to finish. In the meantime, he’s enjoying the response he’s been getting. “It’s always like you just shake your head and it’s like man, people actually care,” he said.

To contribute to the zebra mural restoration, go to

Contact Tammerlin Drummond at 510-208-6468. Follow her at