If Exeter can call itself the “Mural City”, Tulare must be a close second, with 17 murals completed, and more in the planning stages.
Long before either Exeter or Tulare embarked on a mural program, the first Tulare mural appeared on the north wall of the Madden Building on the Tulare Union High School campus. A gift of the Class of ’78, and painted by a Hanford artist, it portrays a noble “redskin”, the symbol of all of the school’s athletic teams.
The first mural commissioned by the Tulare Cultural Arts Foundation was unveiled January 15, 1998. It is entitled “The Elopement” and was painted by Colleen Goodwin Chronister of Lemoore on the south wall of Hazel’s Kitchen at 237 North L Street. Don LeBaron, who was the owner of the building at that time, and his fiancee, Janet Heath, posed for the photographs from which the artist worked. The long-time owner of the house, Hazel Hoyt, had lived for 90 years in that home and had passed away in 1997. Many of us remember that Miss Hoyt served as Tulare’s City Clerk for many years.
A week later, at 140 South K Street, a mural was unveiled on the north wall of the Grabowski Building, now occupied by Golden Valley Stamps & Awards. It depicts a man painting a sign for E. J. Ryan, Druggist, the first owner of the building. The mural was painted by Mike Kohler of Tulare.
Further south on K Street an old advertisement was uncovered on the wall of a building owned by Harvey Willis when an adjoining building was demolished. The swastikas in the painting have been the source of much controversy. It is not known who painted it – or when, but it is at least 79 years old.
On the rear wall of Michael’s Bridal Shop at 124 South K Street, Bonnie Pay of Tulare has depicted a wedding party on the grounds of historic old Merritt Manor during the 1920’s. The house was built during the first decade of the 20th century by P.J.S. Montgomery, manager of the huge Paige and Morton Ranch west of Tulare. He called the mansion “The Oaks”. Hulett Merritt, owner of the 7000 acre Tagus Ranch, purchased the house in the early 1920’s and promptly renamed it “Merritt Manor”. The house was razed in 1959 and replaced by a number of Tulare’s finest homes. The mural faces the alley near the Wells Fargo parking lot and was unveiled January 22, 1998.
Tulare native Colleen Mitchell-Venya, now of Visalia, painted the mural on the south wall of the Linder Building at K Street and Kern Avenue. The faces of the two horsemen in Linder Park are those of her brother Steve and their father, Jerry Mitchell. The mural, which was completed in March of 1998, also depicts the old Linder & Harlow Carriage and Wagon Repository, and includes a rendering of Tulare pioneer Reynold Linder. Linder, born in Germany in 1854, arrived in Tulare 34 years later to found a business empire. By 1897 he was representing this area in the state senate.
“Olympic Gold”, also by Colleen Mitchell-Venya, graces the wall of the Tulare Youth Services Building at the intersection of J and K Streets. It honors Tulare’s two Olympic heroes: Bob Mathias, who won the decathlon in London in 1948 at the age of 17, and successfully defended his title 4 years later in Helsinki; and Sim Innes who earned the gold medal in discus at the Helsinki Olympics.
The mural painted by Colleen Mitchell-Venya on the east wall of the old Sweet’s Drug Store Building, depicts some of the over 10,000 Army Air Corps Cadets trained at Rankin Field, and highlights (on the right) John Gilbert “Tex” Rankin, famous stunt pilot of the 1930’s, who was founder and general manager of Rankin Aeronautical Academy. On the left of the same mural, which was dedicated December 5, 1998, is highlighted Major Richard Bong (known as “Bing Bong”), WWII’s top flying ace and graduate of Rankin Field class 42-A. In the Pacific Theater he shot down 40 Japanese planes. Major Bong’s plane featured a photograph of his wife, Marge. He was killed August 6, 1945 while testing an experimental jet fighter.
This mural painted by Nadi Spencer of Three Rivers was dedicated January 12, 2000 as part of the festivities marking Leona Korenwinder’s retirement as manager of the Tulare Branch of the Bank of the West at 220 East Tulare Avenue. Bears are part of the bank’s logo; these are depicted in a mountain setting in the Sierras.
“Doughnut Girls” is the title of the mural at the Salvation Army Building at 300 East San Joaquin. It shows World War I doughboys in the trenches and Salvation Army workers serving coffee and doughnuts. It was painted by Patrick Barszcz of Visalia, and dedicated May 5, 2000. The artist’s wife, Ginger, and her friend, Pam Flores, served as models for the Salvation Army Volunteers; the soldiers are Tulare men who served in Europe in WWI – Clarence Putnam, Harrison George Revels, and Harry Cederlin.
The railroad was entirely responsible for the founding of Tulare, and the mural completed by Mike Kohler in June 2000 on the old Penny’s Building at the corner of Tulare Avenue and J Street recalls one of the early trains passing through Tulare. For 20 years, Southern Pacific made Tulare an important rail center, with their division headquarters, machine shops and roundhouse located south of Inyo Avenue between K Street and the tracks. The town was devastated when the headquarters was moved to Fresno and the shops to Bakersfield in 1891. Without the substantial railroad payroll, businesses suffered and the town almost died.
Although not officially approved by the Cultural Arts Foundation, a mural made its appearance in Zumwalt Park in August of 2000. It was painted by participants in the Tulare “Got A Job” program and honors another of Tulare’s heroes. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr. was raised in Tulare, graduated from Tulare Union High School as class valedictorian in 1938, and at age 50 became this country’s youngest 4-star admiral as well as the youngest Chief of Naval Operations. In 1998 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom. He died of cancer in January, 2000, and on July 4 President Clinton announced a new class of ships to be named in Admiral Zumwalt’s honor.
This mural was completed by Mike Kohler in August 2000 at the Tulare County Fairgrounds. It might be called a triptych as it consists of 3 panels. The panel on the north wall is a copy of the 1985-fair poster; the Sierra Nevadas and scenes from the 1995 poster make up the two panels on the west wall. Although there were sporadic attempts to hold a fair in Tulare as early as 1894, the County Fair as we know it today dates from 1919 when the fair board acquired the four acres in the north west corner of the present-day grounds.
Two murals were completed in October 2000 by Colleen Mitchell-Venya, and can be found inside the newly renovated Tulare City Hall. The first shows the view of Tulare City Park as seen through a north window of the newly constructed city hall in 1937. The second portrays the famous bond burning ceremony in the City Park in 1903. $500,000 in bonds had been issued by the newly formed Tulare Irrigation District in 1890 for the purpose of bringing water to the area’s farmlands. Partly because of the financial panic of the 1890’s, the bonds soon became a crushing burden on the community. When the bond-holders finally agreed to accept 50 cents on the dollar, the town organized a huge celebration, culminating in the burning of the accursed bonds.
This huge mural features a view of Yosemite Park and was painted by Mike Kohler in the spring of 2001. It can be found on the east wall of Gainsborough Studios at 227 East Kern Avenue. At 24 ft. by 120 ft. it is by far the largest of Tulare’s murals. Easily identifiable in the painting are half-dome and Bridal Veil Falls. The photographer could be Ansel Adams, busily photographing his favorite subject. The building is part of Tulare’s unique history. Originally the city’s post office, it was remodeled into the State Theater when the post office moved to its present location on Tulare Avenue in 1937. The theater closed for good in about 1960, and Gene and Gerry Smith moved their photography studio into the remodeled building in 1973.
Another Mike Kohler mural can be found on the north wall of Howell’s Service Center, 251 South L Street. Completed in the summer of 2001 the painting represents a composite of several early-day Tulare garages.
In a tribute to the Azorean heritage of many Tulareans, Portuguese Dancers are painted on the west wall of Susan’s Studio of Dance, 63 North Tower Square. The mural was completed by Deborah York in the spring of 2001.