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Huntington Beach Civic Center, Huntington Beach California

The Huntington Beach Civic Center has a fresh coat of paint and the addition of wall murals saved during demolition of Seacliff Shopping Center, located across the street. The glazed tile murals of birds are only one of two such collections in existence and has an estimated value of over $1 million. The other is located on the island of Maui in Hawaii.  The historic murals and sculptured pelicans were artfully restored so that tourists, travelers and local residents can see them during daylight hours.

Bird MapIn 1976, an exceptional shopping center project opened in coastal Huntington Beach, California. The Seacliff Village, designed by the renowned architectural firm of Edward Carson Beall & Associates, with leadership from Mayor Donald Shipley, used as an environmental design them the types of habitats of California shore birds.

More than 140 species of birds were depicted in 16 large, hand-painted ceramic tile murals, 79 graceful metal pelican sculptures mounted on pier pilings, and many museum-quality natural history dioramas, habitat maps and other decorative elements woven throughout the outdoor mall.  Artists, architects, museum curators and scientists collaborated on this privately funded special project. For over twenty years, it created an aesthetic, artistic and educational experience unlike any other art in public places site in the area.

In 1997, Shea Properties, owner of Seacliff Village, announced plans to re-develop the 25 year-old community shopping center into a new $45 million retail center to serve the residents of Huntington Beach. Shea Properties and the city's "Save the Birds" Committee jointly agreed that the old center, valued at more than $1 million, deserved a new home that would provide maximum exposure to the public. With that in mind, Shea Properties offered to donate the artwork to the community through the City of Huntington Beach. Shea Properties then worked closely with the City Council to develop a preservation program and fund raising campaign designed to save the birds and murals.

Then Mayor Shirley Dettloff and the City Council requested the Committee to study recommendations for a rescue effort to remove, preserved and relocated the artwork to sites which were accessible to the public.

Professionals from ConservArt Associates specializing in the preservation of fine art and art consultant Ann Thorne coordinated the project. The committee studied various proposed locations for the murals, metal birds and dioramas and recommended that the bulk of the collection be developed as part of a public art element for the Huntington Beach Civic Center. A portion of the collection, the 18 natural history dioramas, was offered to community partner organizations including the Bolsa Chica Conservancy. Students from a senior English class at Huntington Beach High School organized a class project to raise money for the cost of re-installing one of the murals at their school.

The fundraising campaign was launched by the City and the "Save the Birds" Committee in January 1998. Mayor Dettloff, Mayor Pro Tem Peter Green and Councilman Tom Harman invited business and community leaders to a special reception to announce the project and the fundraising goal of $255,000. The lead gift to the campaign was $210,000 form the Seacliff developer Shea Properties. The remaining $50,000 was raised through community donations. In-kind contributions included the work of the Huntington Beach Junior Chamber of Commerce in refinishing the pelicans. Over 500 residents made contributions to the campaign.

By August of 1998, the "Save the Birds" community campaign had raised $225, 000, with the impending sale of the pelicans estimated to bring in an additional $30,000. With the urgency created by the upcoming demolition of the shopping center, City staff and the consultants began work immediately to help the birds "migrate" to the Civic Center. The public art installation at the Civic Center includes gatherings of pelican sculptures in flight patterns near the main entrance, pools and other specified sites, and the mounting of ceramic tile murals on the the previously unadorned walls of the modern Civic Center buildings. The collection was removed from the vacant Seacliff shopping center during December 1998 and re-installed between January and the end of March 1999.

The arrival of the birds at the Civic Center generated a tremendous amount of excitement in the community.  Mayor Peter Green commented that the former Seacliff birds make the Civic Center a work of art. There was also wide media coverage, including these supportive remarks from the Huntington Beach Independent: "Huntington Beach City Hall has a terrific new look. The brilliantly colored tile murals and pelicans on posts...grace our City Hall...What an improvement!"

Thanks to the concerted efforts of the Huntington Beach community and its partners, the Seacliff public art collection was rescued, restored and relocated for enjoyment of generations to come.

The Public Art Program is administered through the Cultural, Historic and Event Services Division, Community Services Department, City of Huntington Beach. Contact: (714) 536-5258.

They have taken on a new appearance with different placements and lighting exposures. Smiles on visitors' faces testify to the joy these art pieces provide. You will find the bird murals at the Huntington Beach Civic Center which includes City Hall and the Police Station, plus City Council Chambers.  It is located on the corner of Main Street and Yorktown. The landmark City Hall building is the tallest building around. You can't miss it. 

The art work and lively plaza with a cascading fountain, which terraces downward in the direction of Yorktown Avenue, create a stimulating environment.

Wander for a few minutes or sit on a bench near the miniature, cement pagoda which memorializes the city's sister city in Japan. Watch people walk past as you experience the newest treasures to a city growing ever finer in environmental art.