It was created to beautify an industrial power plant, a massive mural depicting migrating gray whales that through the years became an iconic fixture in the South Bay after it was created by artist Wyland nearly three decades ago.

The Whaling Wall, one of more than 100 around the world by the famous marine artist, has adorned the side of the AES power plant by King Harbor since 1991, a nearly 100-foot-tall mural the site’s developer confirmed Wednesday he wants to paint over.

Leo Pustilnikov said he approached the Wyland Foundation in April about possibly salvaging at least some of the mural in preparation for a possible shutdown of the power plant at the end of this year.

“As a preemptive measure, I reached out to them to say it looks like the plant is shutting down so let’s see if we can preserve some pieces,” Pustilnikov said of the Wyland Foundation. “He said that’s great, we’ll talk to Wyland and we’ll propose three things to preserve.”

Pustilnikov said he next received a follow-up stating the mural was protected by the Visual Artists Rights Act. He said he looked up the records and found that Wyland signed an agreement that the mural needed to be preserved for 20 years, which would have been 2011.

Wyland Foundation President Steve Creech expressed hope that a “win-win” could be found for both parties. The public artwork is of recognized stature and the mural has certain protections under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, he argued.

Creech responded in an e-mail to the developer that the Visual Artists Rights Act requires written consent by an artist before the work can be destroyed.

Creech said the Whaling Wall is an important landmark for Redondo Beach that spreads a message of conservation and should be preserved in some form.

The Wyland Foundation also asked Pustilnikov to contribute money, which the developer did not take well. So now Pustilnikov is threatening to paint over the mural the first chance he gets … when the whole coronavirus thing dies down of course.

“Now they are trying to drum up support to save it because the guy has an ego,” Pustilnikov said. “I’m not going to save any portion of it, just because of how he conducts himself.”

I”m not going to be extorted or green-mailed by these guys,” he said.

Creech said the Whaling Wall is an important landmark for Redondo Beach that spreads a message of conservation and should be preserved in some form.

“We find this willful destruction punitive and particularly ironic given that World Ocean Day is next month,” he said.

In a book about his 100 Whaling Walls, Wyland wrote about working with city officials and the Chamber of Commerce to paint the “industrial eyesore” in 1991.

“This, by far, was the ugliest wall I had ever seen,” he wrote in the book. “But at the same time, I was awed by its sheer size and potential for a Whaling Wall. I immediately envisioned an entire pod of gray whales migrating across the wall.”

He used 3,000 gallons of paint, finishing the 586-foot, 95-foot high mural in 11 days. The mural of migrating gray whales was restored in 2010.

Pustilnikov and partner Ely Dromy closed on the 51-acre property in March using at least 11 separate LLCs. Pustilnikov owns roughly 25%. 

As far as the developer’s plans for the highly coveted site going forward, Pustilnikov said drawings have been put on hold as they assess what changes might happen in a post-coronavirus world. Previously, he talked about creating office space with some retail and restaurants on the ground floor and a hotel.

“While I had something I was ready to show, now I have to wait and see,” he said. “I don’t know if people are going back to offices and hotels. We don’t know how people are going to use space going forward.”

Pustilnikov’s waterfront vision must first pass voter approval for anything other than parkland. Development would include the eventual removal of the AES natural-gas fired plant, with potential plans for a mixed-use project, wetlands restoration and park space taking its place.

Environmental activists led by Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand have been trying to shut down the power plant for more than two decades because it’s polluting and it uses a seawater cooling technique known to harm marine life. The plant is currently only used for backup power generation.

The mural features nine life-size gray whales, including Wyland’s first-ever painting of a 100-foot long blue whale and bottlenose dolphins swimming in a kelp forest.

It’s not the first time the artist has come up against developers looking to destroy his art. A Laguna Beach property owner painted over his first-ever mural created in 1981 on the Hotel Laguna after battling over the property in the mid-90s.

The community celebrated last summer when a new property owner took over and allowed Wyland to recreate his original mural, which sits next to his Laguna work-live studio.

 

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