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A moment frozen in time

Muralist is recreating 1918 photo that captured Balboa street scene on a wall beside the pavilion. Community members lend a hand.

November 08, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • West Los Angeles artist Art Mortimer, left, directs Jule Gainey as she paints a mural of Balboa Village history while Norm White, right, looks on Wednesday.
West Los Angeles artist Art Mortimer, left, directs Jule… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Ninety-five years ago, a small crowd of people shared a moment outside the Balboa Pavilion that became an iconic part of Newport Beach history.

Even if all they did was show up.

One man, wearing a long white apron, steps out the front door of a shop marked Barker's, passing what appears to be a card or magazine rack. A yard or so away, a man in a white suit watches him. Three women walk and chat nearby on the sidewalk. A man in overalls stands outside a billiard hall, holding something indistinct in his hands, while a black-suited figure approaches the door.

A viewer, regarding the anonymous subjects in that 1918 photo, might think of the fictional rock band Spinal Tap describing the inhabitants of Stonehenge: "No one knows who they were or what they were doing, but their legacy remains."

And now, the legacy of that modest Balboa crowd looks to remain a good, long while — on a wall next to the pavilion, where mural artist Art Mortimer is replicating the photo in a salute to the neighborhood's history.

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"That's one of my favorite parts about it," the artist said during a break from painting Wednesday morning. "Because in trying to make this look real or have a life to it, I've got these enlargements of sections of this [photo], and when I'm drawing this out, I'm, like, studying the people — like how they're holding their hands and what kind of clothing they're wearing.

"These are people who had no idea that their picture was being taken. They didn't dress up to get their picture taken or stand a certain way so it would look good in the photo. They just happened to be there. So this is what it was really like."

Last year, the Community Foundation of Balboa Peninsula Point enlisted Mortimer — who, by his count, has painted more than 100 murals in and outside California — to ply his craft in Newport. The foundation didn't give Mortimer a deadline to finish the work, but he's set one for himself: He hopes to have it done by Christmas.

Working off the photo, which foundation members located at the Huntington Library, Mortimer created a design with the image tilted slightly and the words "Balboa Village, circa 1918" superimposed on a ribbon below it. A green panel in the upper left will provide a synopsis of Balboa's history.

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