A landlord being sued for destroying an iconic mural in San Jose’s East Side reportedly settled a lawsuit four years prior for removing another artist’s work.
In 2014, a dentist named Suong Le allegedly painted over Guillermo Aranda’s “Mexicatlan” mural on an old building at Sunset and Alum Rock avenues. In October this year, Le apparently did the same to artist Jose Mesa Velasquez’s “Mural de la Raza,” which had adorned the side of the Payless ShoeSource building on Story Road for more than three decades.
In an interview with the Mercury News, which first reported on the existence of the previous lawsuit, Aranda said he had a tough time tracking Le down to file the complaint. According to the article, Aranda has created murals throughout Santa Cruz and Monterey counties as well as under a freeway in San Diego that became part of a national historic site called Chicano Park.
Aranda’s mural in San Jose was commissioned in 2002 by a neighborhood nonprofit called the Mayfair Improvement Initiative, which has since rechristened itself SOMOS Mayfair. The community was outraged when “Mexicatlan” disappeared without notice, which caught up with Le and resulted in a legal settlement a year later.
Similar backlash ensued this past summer when the new owners of Payless ShoeSource—reportedly Le—removed Velasquez’s “Mural de la Raza,” which depicted Latino cultural figures. Velasquez has since filed a similar lawsuit, demanding $5 million from Le for allegedly painting over his work without notice, as required by state and federal law.
Le’s attorneys claim that his company, A7 Story, assumed the Payless building’s previous owner, 2048 Partners LLC, had complied with applicable laws by notifying Velasquez ahead of time. According to Le’s cross-complaint, the prior landlord painted over all but the face of the Virgin de Guadalupe in the early morning darkness Aug, 29. Hours later, even that was covered up.
A Change.org petition to restore the mural has garnered 3,000-plus signatures to date.