Hal Durian's Riverside Recollections

10:00 PM PDT on Saturday, July 4, 2009
Hal Durian Special to The Press-Enterprise

Life is full of mysteries. Some will never be solved while others may be solved to everyone's satisfaction. I hope the latter type may be found in downtown Riverside.

In the Loring Building at Mission Inn Avenue and Main Street, there is a gift shop known as Miss Tiggy-Winkle's after a character in the children's book by Beatrix Potter.

Seventy years ago, that space was occupied by the Talavera Sweet Shop run by Mrs. Florence L. Bayz. One of the shop's rooms was decorated by a Los Angeles painter named Leo Politi. Since he lived near Olvera Street and often painted for its residents, he was often described as the "Olvera Street Artist."

Politi's Riverside mural was described as having bright hues of green and brilliant reds. Also used was talavera blue, and that color was the origin of the shop's name.

Through the many years since the mural was painted, sometime in the mid-1930s, the mural has been painted over an unknown number of times. Today a mural of Miss Tiggy Winkle and Peter Rabbit adorns the wall where the mural is thought to be. Part of the mystery is that no one is certain where the mural is within the former Talavera Sweet Shop.

A group of Riverside art lovers has learned of the hidden mural and has begun to spread the word of the mural's existence beneath those layers of paint.

CeeAnn Thiel, owner of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's, has mixed feelings about the search for the hidden mural. On the one hand, she feels a responsibility to the community and a certain curiosity. On the other hand, she treasures her own mural.

Thiel is agreeable to having a group of responsible restorers chip away a portion of the paint, say 4 inches square, to determine whether the mural is actually there, and whether it is feasible to recover and restore the hidden mural.

A photo exists of the diminutive artist, Politi, wearing a beret in front of the tropical mural that is now concealed. He is shown on a ladder alongside his painted palm trees and Indian hogans.

Politi was not a world-class painter of the Picasso class. Rather, he was a well-known and respected Southern California artist. His murals still exist at Fresno State and in San Diego. His works have been exhibited in many different galleries. The Los Angeles city school district thought enough of Politi to name an elementary school for him.

Will the hidden Politi mural be revealed? Will it be found where it is thought to be? Will its recovery and restoration be practical? These and other questions are presented by the possibility of the mural's existence beneath those layers of paint.

Thanks to Barbara Moore for her information used in this column.

Reach Hal Durian at durian@uia.net