Project to Recreate Famed Prado Dam Patriotic Display Gets Underway

Connor Forbes
Connor Forbes
5 Min Read
Mural in 1976.

Prado Dam

CORONA (CNS) – A project to recreate an iconic patriotic mural that stretched across the crest of Prado Dam for almost 47 years got underway Wednesday.

“The Prado Dam Bicentennial Mural Restoration Painting Project” is expected to last two to three months, with people donating their time to remake the former mural, which was removed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in February.

“The Prado Dam Bicentennial Mural is a symbol of our region’s history and resilience,” Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. “The restoration project is a testament to our commitment to preserving our heritage and ensuring that future generations can appreciate the beauty and significance of this landmark. We are grateful to the talented painters leading this project and look forward to celebrating the completion of this important endeavor.”

According to the county Flood Control & Water Conservation District, a fundraising effort by the Bicentennial Freedom Mural Conservancy and the Friends of the Prado Dam Mural generated $140,000 in donations for the project.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors authorized the district to enter into a four-month compact with the conservancy, establishing that the nonprofit should have unfettered access to Prado Dam and that all rights and licenses stemming from its work on the spillway will be reserved to the district.

Prado Dam is the property of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the Flood Control & Water Conservation District operates within the space to control Santa Ana River water flows.

The original Bicentennial Mural was painted in celebration of America’s 200th birthday in 1976. The idea now is to create a mural that’s virtually identical to the previous one, utilizing more environmentally friendly products.

“This project aims to restore the mural’s vibrant red, white and blues,” according to a district statement.

The Corps has granted the district a license for repainting the mural, which will be permitted to remain in place for at least five years, though that period could be extended.

The Corps was impervious to requests for the original mural to remain, citing lead paint hazards and related reasons. Preservation advocates sued in federal court seeking to prevent the Corps from proceeding with dismantling the display, but the litigation ended in 2021 in favor of the Corps.

Efforts to have the National Park Service declare the former spillway display a national landmark did not gain traction. Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places Joy Beasley said in 2019 that it did not qualify for special protected status because there had been “massive over-painting, loss of original paint through normal wear, and the addition of other non- historic graffiti.”

In 2017, the Corps received more than 200 letters and a petition containing 30,000 signatures, urging the government to find exceptions that would permit the Bicentennial Mural to be maintained. According to the Corps, the first criterion for preservation was that the structure be at least 50 years old, and the old mural fell short of that.

Officials further stated that the commemorative aspects of the original mural, which was 106 feet tall and stretched 2,280 feet across, were insufficient for federal recognition because it was created to honor one thing – – the nation’s 200th birthday — and that was done with celebratory intent, not because the people behind the artwork were endeavoring to create something permanent.

In July 2015, the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles federally sued the Corps to halt moves toward removing the mural. A U.S. District Court judge in Riverside issued an injunction barring any work at the site until all options for the mural’s future were explored. The injunction was lifted in 2021.

The original mural was painted in May 1976, when more than 30 Corona High School students spent several weekends voluntarily working on the project. Upon completion, it read “200 Years of Freedom,” with a space depicting the Liberty Bell, followed by “1776-1976” painted in red, white and blue.

The spillway is visible from portions of the Corona (71) Expressway and the Riverside (91) Freeway.

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