A four-decade-old patriotic mural in Corona’s Prado Dam will be removed and replaced with a new display intended to replicate all the features of the original, which was created by a phalanx of volunteers to celebrate America’s 200th birthday, officials said Thursday.

The famed Bicentennial Mural painted on the spillway crest is set to be wiped away this fall by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the dam. However, immediately after its removal, the Riverside County Flood Control & Water Conservation District will inaugurate a replacement project that will be virtually identical to the original.

“The mural will be restored to its bright red, white and blue hues through partnerships with several government agencies and community groups for another generation to enjoy,” according to district statement.

The replacement effort will be formally announced during a ceremony on the afternoon of Sept. 8 at the site.

“The Corps has granted a five-year license for repainting the mural,” Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Dena O’Dell told City News Service. “Once the original is removed, they can start the replacement project.”

The Corps said the timeline for removal is mid-October to the end of February, at an estimated cost of $1.65 million.

Repainting the mural is expected to require a couple months’ work. No date has been set for the job to get underway, but it’s likely to involve multiple parties, including volunteers from the nonprofit Friends of the Prado Dam Mural.

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, secured $2.5 million for the removal and replacement project in a federal appropriations bill earlier this year. The new display will be permitted to remain in place for at least five years.

The Corps has been immovable in its position that the original mural must go because of lead paint hazards.

Preservation advocates sued in federal court seeking to prevent the Corps from proceeding with dismantling the iconic display, but the litigation ended last year in favor of the Corps.

Efforts to have the National Park Service declare the spillway display a national landmark did not gain traction.

Among the criteria used by Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places Joy Beasley to disqualify the mural from preservation protection in 2019 was “current massive over-painting, loss of original paint through normal wear and the addition of other non-historic graffiti,” all of which, she said, had “severely altered the mural’s original design and commemorative intent.”

In 2017, the Corps received more than 200 letters and a petition containing 30,000 signatures, urging the government to find exceptions that would permit the Bicentennial Mural to be maintained.

According to the Corps, the first criterion for preservation would be that the structure be at least 50 years old, and the mural falls short of that.

Officials further stated that the commemorative aspects of the mural were insufficient for federal recognition because it was created to honor one thing — the nation’s 200th birthday — and that was done with celebratory intent, not because the people behind the artwork were endeavoring to create something permanent.

“However important such milestones may be, historic monuments cannot be listed in the National Register of Historic Places for their association with … events for which they were created,” the government stated.

In July 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 issued an injunction barring any work at the site until all options for the mural’s future were explored. Ultimately, the injunction was lifted.

The Corps issued findings in 2014 that the best way to proceed was to remove the dilapidated edifice, 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 maintains poses a hazard due to the lead paint decay.

The mural, situated inside the flood control channel for the Santa Ana River, was painted in May 1976. 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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