LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — An iconic mural in downtown Los Angeles has been painted over.

When artist Judith Baca was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to paint a mural for the 1984 Summer Games, she wanted to commemorate the first time women were allowed to run in an Olympic marathon. Her vision was realized.

“The mural is about that. It’s about overcoming walls. The kind of obstacles that defined what women could do,” said Baca. “She’s not coming through a ticker tape, but a rope that is broken because the rope was meant to hold her back.”

It took nine months under difficult conditions to complete the mural called “Hitting the Wall: Women in the Marathon.” It was 100 feet wide and 35 feet high.

For more than three decades, Baca says it became a part of the subconscious of those who saw it on the 110 freeway near the 4th Street exit in downtown LA. But over the years, it became the target of taggers and vandals.

“We coated it this last restoration with a coating we have perfected here in which you could remove graffiti from the surface of a mural without destroying the mural,” said Baca.

Baca is a visual artist, a UCLA professor and head of the Social and Public Art Resource Center, or SPARC. She told CBSLA they have removed graffiti and restored the mural several times. So they were shocked to hear that in March, someone had painted over the vandalized mural, covering the woman entirely.

“I was really horrified to see that not only did they coat it once, but multiple times,” said Baca.

Baca believed Caltrans was responsible because the mural is in their jurisdiction and she says they’ve done it before. But CalTrans denied whitewashing the artwork. Then Tuesday afternoon, the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, contacted Baca and sent CBSLA this statement:

“As part of the Freeway Beautification Program, Metro has been providing, through its contractor, supplemental landscaping, graffiti abatement and litter removal along this stretch of the 110 Freeway on Caltrans’ right of way. Due to the extensive graffiti coverage on the mural, our contractor did not recognize that there was a mural under this section of wall. We apologize on behalf of our contractor and will move forward to resolve this matter with SPARC.”

“How is that the right thing to do? Absolute disrespect. Disrespect for public art,” said Baca.

Baca said they had asked Caltrans for permission to get on the freeway to restore the mural, but no response. Baca now wants the responsible party to pay for the restoration and she wants to make sure public art cannot be destroyed without notifying the artist first.

Baca says Metro has asked to meet with her. In the meantime she says she and a group will try to remove those coats of paint from the mural. She says if that is not successful and the mural is destroyed, she plans to take legal action.

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