Prado Dam Ural
The Prado Dam Mural. Courtesy Friends of the Prado Dam Mural

A 42-year-old patriotic mural in Corona’s Prado Dam does not meet the necessary criteria for preservation as a federally protected landmark, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The agency on Thursday released a final determination regarding the status of the Bicentennial Mural, advising the California Office of Historic Preservation that it had concluded its study of the issue and could not find justification for retaining what’s left of the artwork under standards established by the National Historic Preservation Act.

The Corps last year issued a preliminary finding that the mural did not qualify for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Additional evaluation since that time has not changed the Corps’ original determination, agency officials said.

They noted that more than 200 letters and a petition containing 30,000 signatures had been received, urging the government to find exceptions that would permit the beloved mural to be maintained. However, the Corps could not identify any means by which to meet terms of eligibility, officials said.

The first criterion for preservation would be that the edifice be at least 50 years old, and the mural falls short of that by nearly a decade, according to the Corps.

“National register eligibility demands evidence of exceptional importance for properties less than 50 years of age,” the Corps’ letter to the California Office of Historic Preservation states. “The difficulty with establishing the Bicentennial as its own significant event is that its `significance’ is derived from the significance of the event it is commemorating — the founding of the United States.”

“The Corps has … found that the Bicentennial did not have any verifiable effect on cultural or civic institutions, legislative development, social ordering, or on any other thematic subject,” the letter continues. “Commemorative properties typically honor a person, place, or event in history and achieve memorial status as the years pass. However important such persons or milestones may be, historic monuments cannot be listed in the National Register of Historic Places for their a association with the individuals or events for which they were created.”

“Because it is a commemorative property, the mural cannot be eligible unless it derives significance from aspects other than from the Bicentennial it proclaims,” according to the Corps.

The future of the mural is in doubt. The Corps still has plans to dismantle it, barring any further legal challenges.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors, along with city councils in Corona, Eastvale and Norco, have passed resolutions urging restoration and preservation of the display.

In 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 signed a restraining order barring any work at the site until all options for the mural’s future were explored.

The Corps, which controls Prado Dam, issued findings in 2014 that the best way to proceed was to remove the dilapidated mural, which is 106 feet tall and stretches 2,280 feet across. The deconstruction plan ran into stiff opposition from area activists, led by Ron Kammeyer, who helped create the mural, which the Corps argues poses a hazard due to lead paint decay in the spillway.

The mural, situated inside the flood control channel for the Santa Ana River, was painted in May 1976 to celebrate America’s 200th birthday. More than 30 Corona High School students spent several weekends voluntarily working on the project.

When completed, the mural read “200 Years of Freedom,” with a space depicting the Liberty Bell, followed by “1776-1976” painted in red, white and blue.

Over the years, the display has suffered weather-related decay and graffiti vandalism, blotting out some of the original scheme, though it’s still visible from portions of the Corona (71) Expressway and the Riverside (91) Freeway.

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