Public Gets Final Glimpse of Controversial 'Life of Washington' Mural

1 min
Members of the public snap pictures of the controversial 'Life of Washington' mural during viewing hours at George Washington High School.  (Chloe Veltman/KQED)

A controversial mural at a San Francisco high school is getting increased attention just as it's about to be covered up.

Hundreds of people squeezed into the main lobby of George Washington High School on Thursday afternoon to catch a final glimpse of San Francisco artist Victor Arnautoff’s Life of Washington mural.

The vibrant fresco that has adorned the walls of the school since 1935 is rarely on public view. A spokeswoman for the San Francisco Unified School District said officials decided to allow the public to view the mural during a two-hour window in response to multiple requests from individuals.

Locals, like Myron Lee, were excited to finally see it. "I’m very interested to see what got the whole city in a tizzy," he said.

The 1600-square-foot mural has been a topic of debate for decades. In the 1960s, the school's Black Student Union campaigned to have the work removed, protesting its depiction of oppressed African- and Native Americans.

San Francisco resident Francee Covington believes the mural should go. (Chloe Veltman/KQED)

But the outcry against the work has grown in recent months, leading to the Board of Education’s unanimous decision earlier this summer to remove it.

"We can't pretend that the Founding Fathers included everyone in their vision of what liberty and justice looked like," said San Francisco resident Francee Covington. "Because they did not." She agreed that the mural should go.

Others argue the artwork should stay. Among them was 13-year-old Berkeley student Donatella Donovan. She said Life of Washington depicts American history in a truthful way.

Berkeley student Donatella Donovan thinks the mural should stay. (Chloe Veltman/KQED)

"It's meant to show the history of our country that a lot of people don't want to recognize is there, because they're ashamed of it," said Donovan, adding she also thought it should stay because it's beautiful.

A San Francisco Unified School District spokeswoman said the Board of Education has not yet decided when to go ahead with the removal, or whether to use paint or solid panels to cover it up.