CORONA, Calif. – It’s been a cultural landmark to residents, commuters and visitors in Corona for nearly 50 years, and now, after successful coordination between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District and its partners, the aging Prado Dam bicentennial mural is getting safely removed to make way for a new one.
It was for this reason the Los Angeles District joined officials from Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties Sept. 8 for the Prado Dam mural groundbreaking ceremony in Corona, California.
In 1976, the Corps of Engineers authorized a group of students from Corona High School to paint a bicentennial mural on the face of the Prado Dam spillway. The original mural was designed to honor the 200th anniversary of our nation – from 1776 to 1976. The mural has since become a source of civic pride for local residents and a landmark for traffic on one of the area’s most heavily traveled thoroughfares – the 91 Highway.
Over the years, however, the lead-based paint that comprised the mural began to deteriorate from weather, making for an environmental hazard.
The Sept. 8 ceremony – which featured many of the original painters from Corona High School – signified the removal of the aging mural, which will start in mid-October and is expected to be complete by the end of February. Once the paint is removed, the mural can be painted again with the same design, beginning as early as March.
As a flood-risk management project, Prado Dam – built in 1941 – protects the lives and property of more than 1.4 million people living upstream and downstream of the dam.
With help from the Office of U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (CA-42), the Corps secured $2.5 million in federal dollars to remove the lead-based paint on the spillway, with the goal of clearing the way for repainting in the same dimensions as the original mural.
After the removal of the lead-based paint, the Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation District will work under a license issued by the Corps to have the mural repainted as it first existed in 1976. The Riverside County Parks and Open Space District will then join the effort in maintaining the mural for residents to enjoy for years to come.
“It’s amazing to be here with all of you to really feel that passion and that commitment to restore this mural,” said Col. Julie Balten, LA District commander, during her remarks at the ceremony. “I really appreciate hearing all the stories that have touched me and many of my team members here. I think that’s what it’s about: We live and work in this community as well. We get to be passionate about the projects also that we have that support the communities here.”
Balten also highlighted the primary function of Prado Dam – flood-risk management – and the recent modifications to ensure the dam works as intended. Modifications to Prado Dam began in 2002 and are scheduled to continue in the next several years to increase storage capacity and to ensure the dam continues to perform as designed to reduce flood risk to the public.
“The life and safety of those living and working in and around our dams is always our priority,” Balten said.
Due to an overlap in timing for modifications to the dam and work on the mural, the freshly painted mural will be up briefly before being taken down once again during construction – and then painted once more after modifications to the spillway are complete.
“It’s a gateway to the Inland Empire – that’s what people have called this mural for years,” said Peter Usle, who works with the nonprofit Friends of the Prado Dam Mural. “Another thing I hear all the time is, ‘I know I’m home when I see it,’ I have seen 25,000 public comments on it, and they’re all essentially the same comment – that the mural means a lot to them. From combat vets to artists, the Army Corps of Engineers really helped bring a lot of us together to do this.”
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Terri Smith Ferguson, who came up the idea of painting a bicentennial theme on the spillway and one of the original painters from the Corona High School Class of 1976. “It’s been a long road. I never thought that what we did 46 years ago would still have an impact after all this time. I didn’t realize how many people the dam touched. It’s really neat to see how important this is to so many people and how they’ve given up their time to come out here.”