An art student conducting research for a thesis visited Stoneman School in the 1980s and asked to see the Lucile Lloyd mural. No one at the school knew anything about a mural, but the request piqued the interest of Vern Ishgar, the director of maintenance for the San Marino Unified School District. When Ishgar and Stoneman Principal Bill Langton spotted a tiny bit of colored paint under the institutional beige wall in the kindergarten room, they invited the Executive Board of the San Marino Historical Society to visit. That was 1988.
Over the next nine years, San Marino resident Marilyn Peck – with the backing of the Historical Society – led a one-woman campaign to research and restore the mural. It was not easy; few historic preservation projects are. Believing a clue to the mural’s history existed, Peck sat at the microfilm reader in the San Marino Public Library reading old issues of the San Marino Tribune from the 1920s and 1930s. Finally, after two years, she discovered a two-sentence reference to the mural. Peck celebrated with the library staff that day.
Encouraged by this discovery, the Historical Society planned to use Society funds and restore one section of the mural. They believed once the community learned of their project and saw the restored section, they would respond with the necessary funding to complete the project. Marilyn Peck now had two tasks. First, find an art preservationist in California capable of taking on this project and second, to research the artist Lucile Lloyd.
The architectural firm of Marsh, Smith & Powell had commissioned Lloyd to paint the mural and frieze at Stoneman. She completed the work in 1930. Lloyd, according to the architectural firm, painted murals in many public buildings, churches, businesses and private homes. Thorough research revealed that Lucile Lloyd’s accomplishments included three large murals titled “California’s Name” in the Senate Committee Room at the state Capital in Sacramento. A collection of her work was also uncovered in the archives at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Peck’s diligent research also resulted in an interview with a member of Lucile Lloyd’s family and a photograph that showed a portion of the Stoneman mural.
The photograph showed other changes that had transpired in the kindergarten room. There once was a lovely fireplace with a tiled painting in the center – it was gone. Institutional fluorescent tubes had replaced lovely old lighting fixtures and beautifully stenciled beams were covered over. Restoring the mural would be a significant effort to preserve the history of Stoneman’s kindergarten room and Peck was even more determined to see the project through.
After a lengthy search throughout the state, Peck found preservationist Nathan Zakheim. He was the son of muralists and the father of two artists. He agreed to take some samples of the paint and test them to determine if indeed the mural could be saved. His tests were positive and work began. Since the room was occupied with a kindergarten class during the day Zakheim, his son Nartom and daughter Shakuntala worked in the evening, sometimes until midnight. The process was slow, tedious labor. The school district had covered the mural with an oil-based paint that did not adhere well to the wall. That was the good news. The problem was that the mural paint also had not attached itself well to the wall either and with every chip of industrial paint removed there was the distinct possibility of also removing the beautifully colored mural paint.
Zakheim credits his daughter with a simple, yet very tricky solution to removing the paint. She used an X-Acto knife, just the point, and with the precision of a gem-cutter, flicked off one tiny piece of paint at a time. Peck claimed the work took on a life of its own and she spent many evenings with the artists as they worked. The beige paint slowly disappeared and the brilliantly colorful woodland creatures, children, elves and flowers materialized. The images are Lloyd’s interpretations of fairy tales and one of the best examples of her work. Zakheim also restored a Lloyd mural at Hollenbeck Middle School in Los Angeles, but acknowledged the Stoneman mural was his favorite.
The Historical Society began this project hoping the community would respond with financial contributions. A reception was held after the first section was uncovered exposing Winken, Blinken and Nod, a gingerbread man and an elf. The Society wrote letters and spoke to city groups in an effort to raise the additional funds. When the project became public knowledge, some curious folks started chipping away paint in other areas of the room. It was clear that the mural was being vandalized and the effort to restore the entire piece moved into full gear.
The Historical Society held a final open house and invited the public. In the crowd were former students who had spent their kindergarten year in that very room, unaware of the treasure beneath the paint. Based on stories from these attendees it was determined that the mural was painted over in the early 1960s. The open house was a success and the needed funding allowed the project to move forward. Today a plaque commemorates the completion of the project in 1997 and the $28,000 in contributions from the community.
This was a project of the San Marino Historical Society but its success is due to the resolute work of Marilyn Peck. She took on this project and even when funding was unclear, she believed so strongly in the value of this preservation and the spirit of our community that she persevered. She has a long history of community service on numerous boards and in many organizations in town but it is this one project – the Stoneman murals – that she often refers to as “her baby.” One beautiful piece of San Marino history was preserved thanks to the efforts of “one” devoted member of the community.
In 1997 Marilyn Peck described her nine-year odyssey in the Historical Society’s newsletter The Grapevine. It was “filled with interesting people, hard work, much research and a great determination to get the job done and bring some justice to [the artwork of] Lucile Lloyd.” Almost twenty years later, a grateful community thanks this one lady for her tireless effort in this preservation. One person CAN make a difference.