The Whaling Wall, a 90-by-580-foot marine-themed mural by renowned artist Robert Wyland on the side of the AES power plant in King Harbor, will soon be demolished despite protests from the artist, the site’s developer confirmed Wednesday.
“The property is going to be redeveloped, and I have to remove that section,” Leo Pustilnikov told City News Service, confirming plans to tear down the mural within the coming weeks. He took ownership of the property in March.
Pustilnikov said he reached out to artist and marine conservationist Robert Wyland’s Wyland Foundation in late April to see if the organization would like to coordinate the removal and potential repurposing of any salvageable portions. However, the two sides could not come to an agreement, and Pustilnikov said he now plans to move forward with the destruction of the 55,000-square-foot painting.
“I reached out to see if some of it could be preserved, and I didn’t have to do that — I could just paint over it or tear it down — but I tried working with them,” the developer said. “Their response was that they wanted a donation, and I am not going to be `greenmailed.’ I am not going to be bullied.”
The mural of migrating gray whales was commissioned in 1991 when the plant was owned by Southern California Edison. It was restored in 2010. A signed contract between Wyland and SCE required Edison to maintain the mural until 2011, according to the Wyland Foundation.
“Wyland did sign an agreement in 1991, but that agreement didn’t constitute a consent on the part of Wyland for destruction of the work (after 2011),” Wyland Foundation President Steve Creech said. “It only imposed an obligation on SCE not to destroy it for 20 years.”
Pustilnikov disagreed: “Edison agreed not to remove it for 20 years, and 20 years was 2011, and it is now 2020 and there’s nothing stopping this.”
SCE officials could not immediately confirm the details of the contract.
The Wyland Foundation contends the artwork may be protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which — if applicable — could require written consent by the artist before the work can be demolished.
Creech said the Whaling Wall is an important landmark for Redondo Beach that spreads a message of conservation and should be preserved in some form.
“We find this willful destruction punitive and particularly ironic given that World Ocean Day is next month,” he said.
Pustilnikov’s development of the 51-acre waterfront property includes the eventual removal of the AES natural-gas fired plant, with potential plans for a mixed-use project, wetlands restoration and park space taking its place. With the uncertainty of the coronavirus, Pustilnikov said details are still being worked out about the tenant mix, which he has said might include offices, retail and a hotel.
Environmental activists have been trying to shut down the power plant for more than two decades because it uses a seawater cooling technique known to harm marine life. The plant is currently only used for backup power generation.