Ryan McDonald

Lifeguard history to be documented by HB Mural Project

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One of artist Joanna Garel’s paintings of the lifeguard towers of the South Bay. Garel hopes to create a lifeguard-themed painting that will serve as the seventh installment of the Hermosa Beach Mural Project later this month. Image courtesy Joanna Garel

by Ryan McDonald

Joanna Garel first turned her artist’s gaze on lifeguards out of necessity. The Toronto native moved to the South Bay more than 20 years ago, hoping to pursue a career in acting. She bought a Hap Jacobs surfboard and learned to surf in El Porto.

It wasn’t easy. “I was swallowing copious amounts of water,” Garel recalled with a laugh. But she found a bit of serenity in the lifeguard towers dotted along the sand.

“That’s what I would keep staring at between sets,” she said.

Soon, Garel hopes to draw on that inspiration for the latest installation of the Hermosa Beach Mural Project.

Now in its seventh year, the mural project is a community-driven effort to paint 10 murals in 10 years to beautify the town and capture aspects of its history. Previous efforts have documented surfing, jazz and, last year, beach volleyball. This year, the focus will be on the city’s lifeguards. The mural is slated for the east-facing wall on Mediterraneo restaurant on Pier Plaza. The mural will be about 20-feet-by-30-feet and will depict two lifeguards rowing a dory through big waves, with another watching from shore and the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the distance.

The Planning Commission must determine that the painting is indeed a mural and is permitted to exceed Hermosa’s signage rules, something each mural in the series has obtained, so far. The Planning Commission will review the mural proposal at its Sept. 19 meeting. Garel hopes to get started the next morning.

Mural Project board member George Schmeltzer said that Garel’s mural differs from others in recent years because the artist plans to paint directly on the wall, rather than on a fabric attached to the wall.

“One of the things we miss with the fabric is that the public doesn’t get the opportunity to watch the muralist work. People have mentioned that they enjoyed the opportunity to watch that,” Schmeltzer said.

The mural looks back to an earlier time when the city had its own crew of lifeguards, before relinquishing responsibility to the Los Angeles County in 1936. The goal, Schmeltzer said, is to expose both residents and visitors to things that they “might not know about Hermosa.”

“People will see the old-fashioned attire. Maybe it will at least get people talking about the old times,” he said.

Fellow board member Steve Izant said with the seventh mural planned out the board is starting to look to the next three years. They want to make sure that essential topics get their due. Izant mentioned punk rock and the beatnik favorite Insomniac Cafe as possibilities for the future. When all 10 are completed, the board hopes to create an app that offers a guided listening tour of all the murals.

“Hermosa has a rich history that we haven’t completely mined,” he said.

Garel, a Redondo Beach resident, said the board has been a guiding hand throughout the process. She was one of about 15 applicants the board considered.

“They have a really developed taste for the projects. It’s really clear how invested they are emotionally. They worry about it, but without dictating or overstepping their boundaries. They trust the artist, and it becomes more like a collective thing. They’ve been very respectful of my vision,” Garel said.

The seventh mural, like the others in the series, is being completed entirely through donations. On Nov. 1, the expected date of the unveiling, supporters will gather at Laurel Tavern on Hermosa Avenue for a fundraiser to keep the project going. Looking back at them, as the sun goes down, will be a bit of history painted on the wall.

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