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Brewery Artwork Saved From Wrecking Ball Gets New Life In Logan Heights Library

Painted in the 1930s, discovered in the 1980s, and then mothballed for years, the city-owned murals and artifacts from Barrio Logan's historic Aztec Brewery will be placed in the Logan Heights Library.

Murals once covering the walls of a tasting room in a 1940s-era brewery in Barrio Logan will become visible to the public after decades in storage.

The city-owned artworks have been restored and will be installed in the Logan Heights Library this week.

Dana Springs, executive director of the city of San Diego's Commission for Arts and Culture, said putting the works in the neighborhood library makes sense.

"The artworks are beloved by that community and the artwork was saved by that community," Springs said. "I could not be more delighted. The pieces are absolutely beautiful."

Colorful, Aztec-themed murals and paintings, elaborately carved wooden doors, stained glass and an ornate bar will be placed in vignettes inside the library. The work has been in storage since the late 1980s when some Barrio Logan residents rescued it from the wrecking ball that eventually knocked down the brewery building.

The San Diego City Council declared the rescued works historic and took possession of them in 1990. City officials pledged to preserve the artwork and to one day reinstall it in the Barrio Logan neighborhood. The artwork was put in storage until it could be restored.

Many of the paintings and murals are by Jose Moya del Pino, a Spanish painter who also made murals for the Coit Tower in San Francisco, along with a brewery and post offices in that city.

The murals covered the walls and ceiling of the Aztec Brewing Co.'s tasting room, referred to as the Rathskeller.

Photo caption:

In the 1930s, the Aztec Brewing Co. Rathskeller was a popular tasting room. The lavish decor included murals and a painted ceiling. Courtesy of San Diego History Center.

Moya del Pino oversaw the rest of the Rathskeller's decoration, which included painted and carved tables, chairs and ceiling beams, chandeliers, tiled mahogany cabinets, stained glass windows and doors and a 9-foot replica of the Aztec calendar. After the brewery closed, the artwork was forgotten until the pending demolition of the building brought it to light.

Muralist Salvador Torres, who helped save the work from destruction, told KPBS in 2012 what it was like to walk into the abandoned tasting room in 1988.

"We open the door and it was like walking into a temple," he said. "A temple site. My God, it was so beautiful. There was dust everywhere. Paintings on the wall full of dust and hand-carved beams on the ceiling. It was remarkable."

In 2012, the city received a $400,000 federal grant to restore the artwork and some artifacts. The Balboa Art Conservation Center, located in Balboa Park, worked on the restoration of the paintings and murals. A Los Angeles-based company restored the sculptural pieces.

The plan was to place the restored art and artifacts in a restaurant in the Mercado del Barrio. But when city officials couldn't find a restaurant able to meet the conditions necessary for preserving the work, the library emerged as an ideal location.

A community celebration is being planned to showcase the historic collection and its return to the neighborhood.


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