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Satirical Mural, Blasted by City Manager, Draws Customers to Cafe

January 21, 1991 GMT

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) _ To the owner of the Rite Spot Cafe, a colorful mural on the restaurant’s wall is an inventive work of art. To the city manager, it’s an insult.

The mural furor is drawing curious customers into the new 1930s-style restaurant. They come to gawk at the 40-foot mural by artist Kenton Nelson.

Nelson, inspired by the restaurant’s struggles with Pasadena’s bureaucracy when they sought approval for a new neon sign, turned out a satirical work in the heroic style of Depression-era murals sponsored by the federal Works Progress Administration.

But they’re anything but flattering to government. City workers lounge under trees and shovel money into a truck. A motorcycle police officer eats a doughnut, ignoring a mugging. City Hall is labeled ″City Hell.″

And the cafe’s co-owner, Roger Kislingbury, is pictured walking into City Hall with bags of money.

Philip Hawkey, the city manager, and his staff didn’t take kindly to it at all. After city workers complained, Hawkey telephoned Kislingbury to criticize the mural as ″inaccurate and unfair.″

″I believe that city employees do a good job and care about the community,″ Hawkey said. ″To ridicule them is not a service.″

After the Pasadena Star-News picked up on the story, customers began praising the mural, which is on an inside wall.

″The day the article came out, I got at least a dozen phone calls,″ cafe co-owner Victor Ciulla said. ″People saying, ’I love your mural. It’s a beautiful work of art.‴

He said the mural’s intent is to satirize the cost of doing business with City Hall, not to imply corruption.

″We’re not trying to depict that there are any city workers on the take,″ Ciulla said. ″We want to show that it costs so much for permits ... that a function of City Hall is to collect money.″

To customer Michael Mayock, the mural is all in good fun. He called the City Hall protest ″ridiculous. No one would have noticed it if they hadn’t called it to everyone’s attention.″