Letters for the week of September 15-21, 2004 

Your depiction of Scott Cory was inaccurate -- and watch your tongue. Last word on the Castro mural; plus, the wrath of a liberal-hater.

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The fresco used brilliant colors, applied with a spatula, in the style of the Spanish artists of that period. A profile of the silhouette technique allowed various sections to stand out. This technique, along with the liberal use of bright silver and gold leaf, lent itself to the planned use of nighttime illumination. It was done in casein paint protected by a special lacquered glaze.

The original mural depicted early Indians and their hogans on the river banks, the cattle and the vaqueros, the old mission bells, Mount Diablo, and Don Victor's hacienda, which was built in 1839 by 200 Indians. It also showed a chart of various land grants into which Contra Costa had been divided.

The central motif of the sectionalized mural is the tall, solid figure of Victor Castro. The painting of the family's icon is when he was then eighty years of age, shortly before his death in 1900.

The mural was commissioned by E.M. Downer Jr., then-president of the Mechanics Bank. It was to commemorate the part El Cerrito had played in the years of Spanish and Mexican rule. My brother, Jim, was photographed, pointing at the mural. Standing beside him was Mrs. Edward M. Downer Jr.

Also present that day were Manuel Marcos Jr., manager of the Fairmount branch; Francis A. Watson, senior vice president; Williard S. Poage, secretary of the bank's board of directors; City Councilman James P. Doherty and Roy Mespelt; City Manager Kenneth H. Smith; his administrative assistant, Charles McCormack, and his secretary, Lucille Irish; Del Smith, El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce president; Chamber Manager Bettianne Flynn; and Frank E. Mullen, president of the Scenic Backgrounds Studio, and architect U.S. Barbachano.

I obtained this information yesterday while browsing through an old box of photographs, left behind by my mother who died last November. One of the newspaper articles is clipped from the Richmond Independent. The other has had its name clipped off, so I cannot determine where it came from, but I suspect it was from the Oakland Tribune.

I hope this information is helpful as far as providing any insight into the history of the mural.
Evelyn Castro Miller, Walnut Creek

"The World Is an Oyster,"
Cityside, 8/18

Fractured fairy tales
Thank you for the brilliant and hysterically funny article. When I first scanned the article, I assumed that the writers quoted were middle-school students or high-school students, but after reading the introduction, I was amazed to learn that they were college students.

"Our four fathers"? I guess that gay, gay marriage goes way, way back to 1776.

"Bone appetite"? Bow-wow.

"Midnight snake"? Most self-respecting snakes are fast asleep at midnight.

"My self-steam"? Well, there's no steam like self-steam.

"Drug attic"? That would be located just below the drug roof, right?

Thanks to these imaginative budding writers for providing us with many new metaphors and concepts, previously unknown to our world. Gee, when I Finnish high school, I hope to be the valid Victorian and then go on to be a wrighter with a hidden massage who laminates over a lost love. Maybe Microsoft needs to invent a cliché checker to go along with its current spelling checker and grammar checker.
James K. Sayre, Oakland

Maybe that's where they learned their bad habits
"The World Is an Oyster" was an amusing survey of David Goldweber's students' mangling of the English language. However, I found it ironic that his own introduction contained a grammatical misstep: He said that his students might be annoyed "if they knew that for the seven years I've taught. ... I was keeping a logbook." Maybe he forgot a basic English rule: Verb tenses must agree.
Carol David, Berkeley

Quite right. And two lines later, when Goldweber noted that "everyone makes mistakes," he never intended to exclude English teachers or, um, editors.

"Get Off Broadway," Music, 8/11

Don't put it down
I haven't seen Billy Joel's Movin' Out and don't intend to. But Gina Arnold, whom I greatly respect, shouldn't generalize from one lousy show to the assertion that Broadway is for the aged (average age -- gasp -- 44!) and that rock and theatre don't mix. They do. For example, one of the biggest Broadway musical hits of the '90s, and still going strong, is Rent, a rock musical written by someone (Jonathan Larsen) in his early thirties largely about and for twentysomething bohemians. It's been the return business from mostly youthful Rentheads that has kept this intelligent, energetic, and big-hearted musical running so long. You can name others -- The Full Monty, with a terrific David Yazbeck score that has a lot of rock and pop elements; Little Shop of Horrors, that brilliantly used early-'60s rock to set the tone and period of the show. And of course Hair. The truth is, on those all-too-rare occasions when the rich musical resources of rock are married to the great Broadway tradition of witty and literate lyrics, the combination can be unbeatable.
Rob Katz, Oakland


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