Virtual Tour

the great wall of Los Angeles

“I dreamed of a tattoo on the scar where the river once ran as a metaphor for healing our city’s divisions of race and class… the concreting of the river was an act of violence against the earth and healing was needed for both the river and the people.”

 -Judy Baca

The Great Wall of Los Angeles is located on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Siutcavitam, the first people of the village Siutcanga. We honor their elders, past and present, and the descendants who are citizens of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. We recognize that the Suitcavitam are still here, and we are committed to lifting up their stories, culture, and community.

The LA River and California’s marginalized ethnic communities
Now a recognized national monument, the Great Wall has counteracted the invisibility of a once central life source and the invisibility of marginalized communities in California and Los Angeles. The development of the Great Wall first began in 1974 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approached muralist Judith F. Baca to assist in beautifying the Tujunga Flood Control Channel. For Baca, the “A tattoo where the river once ran” is the central metaphor between the Los Angeles River and the marginalized communities reflected in the Great Wall. Over five summers, from 1974 to 1983, the Great Wall brought together a diverse team of artists, scholars, community leaders, and over 400 youth. By 1983, the Great Wall measured 2,754 feet, a half-mile long. The Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) co-founded by artists Baca, Donna Deitch, and Christina Schlesinger was established to support this artist-initiated project and has helped steward, maintain, and expand The Great Wall.

Concreting the Los Angeles River

The river, once rich with vegetation and animal habitats, sustained life and Indigenous lifeways prior to colonization and contributed to diverse ecosystems. After devastating floods in 1914, 1934, and 1938, the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began the concreting of the Los Angeles River.  Virtually every arroyo along the 51-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River and its tributaries like the Tujunga Wash have been concreted. This concretized scar limits the groundwater basin, rapidly moves pollutants and debris to the ocean, restricts access to the river, and alters people’s relationship to these once-natural waterways.  


Like the concretized river, the beauty and histories of ethnic and working-class communities in Los Angeles were invisible. All the youth employed during the first summer of production had a prior encounter with the juvenile justice system. A curriculum was developed to help youth work through conflict and work alongside one-another. A reflection of a long history of residential segregation, racial prejudice, and other societal divisions, the youth built community and were empowered as they learned about one another’s histories and recovered their own.
Reading the Great Wall
Rather than follow a linear timeline, the Great Wall’s imagery moves backwards and forwards through history. Visual metaphors draw connections across time and space. It is our hope that the mural and this virtual tour encourage viewers to learn more about the eras, events, and individuals depicted.