Demolition of Pitzer Murals Sparks Frustration Among Students and Faculty

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

So reads a mural on an outer wall of Pitzer College’s Mead Hall. This particular mural, which quotes Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” was created by a student in spring 2015, referencing plans for Mead's imminent demolishment. For the time being, the building itself is still standing, but a covered walkway that has long stood in front of the building was disassembled on Aug. 19. Though this decision was a matter of seismic safety, many Pitzer students and faculty were upset to see many years’ worth of murals destroyed in a matter of seconds.

The demolition came as a surprise to the majority of the Pitzer community. In an email sent to all Pitzer faculty that day, and then subsequently forwarded to the rest of the student body, professor of English and World Literature and Africana Studies Laura Harris wrote: “I and a few students were shocked to find the Mead Hall open walkway being demolished today (right now!). We wish someone had sent out some sort of notice.” In a follow up email with TSL, Harris wrote that she found students crying by the building.

Pitzer Interim President Thomas Poon explained that the demolition of the walkway was in fact part of a master plan for campus improvement in place since 2001. The document detailed plans for campus improvement spanning from 2001 to 2020. According to Poon, the master plan was the result of a collaboration between students and faculty. 

“I think the problem is that not many people here remember,” Poom explained. “There are no students now who were involved in that master planning, so it’s not really on their mind.”

What finally prompted the sudden demolition of the walkway this summer, though, was not a wish for a more welcoming space, but rather an urgent need for a safer one, said Poon. In a seismic analysis commissioned by previous Pitzer President Laura Trombley this spring, it was determined that in the event of an earthquake, the walkway could collapse. The estimated cost to renovate the walkway was $60,000 – a cost that the college deemed too great given that the building has an impending expiration date.

Practical reasoning aside, the response was uproarious. Many consider the quirky campus artwork to be one of Pitzer’s most distinguishing qualities.

Indeed, for prospective Pitzer students, the ubiquitous artwork appeals and impresses many, particularly on campus tours.

“They see a lot of the art … it’s very interesting, and it’s a really big part of the culture here,” said Rebecca Rubin PZ ’17. Rubin said that she had always “really liked the funky drawings that I didn’t even understand, they gave Pitzer a lot of personality.”

Bill Anthes, a long-time art history professor, also commented on the role the murals played in Pitzer life.

“[The murals] were created by and for students and were important because of that,” he wrote in an email. “They expressed the issues that mattered to students. They embodied what has always been Pitzer’s unique ethos wherein students take a greater role in all aspects of college life than they do at other institutions.”

Among the memorable murals found within the Mead walkway was a painting of a large red heart captioned “Love Responsibly,” a depiction of the figures from the popular YouTube video “My Spoon is Too Big … I Am a Banana!,” and a portrait of the murdered Vincent Chin, captioned “Remember Vincent Chin.” For those upset by its destruction, photographs of the walkway artwork can be found on Pitzer College’s Flickr account.

Not all members of the Pitzer community felt as sentimental toward the destroyed walkway murals.

“I think Pitzer students can be overly nostalgic,” said Henry Easton Koehler PZ ’18. “The fact is that that corridor was seismically not safe, and also I think it’s more aesthetically pleasing [without the walkway].”

Whether such changes are seen as an improvement to Pitzer’s appearance or as a disturbing obliteration of the college's quirky history and personality, Pitzer’s campus will see further demolitions and new constructions in upcoming years as part of the master plan for campus improvement.

Mead Hall, described on the college's website as being “historically known for the student murals on the exterior walls and hallways that span back many years, representing the interests and creativity of past and current community members,” will be leveled within the next few years. 

“Everything gets destroyed, and that’s part of the beauty of making art – that sometimes, it’ll last a lot longer than the artist,” said recent graduate Tyler Cohen PZ ’15. “But when the opposite happens and the artist lasts longer than the art, that’s sad.”

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