NRA Packages a mural by Genevieve Burgeson Bredo (1914–1976) completed in 1936, was painted on a concrete wall originally located outside the department of Art in the Hardy Memorial Tower basement, San Diego State College.
Mural in the Social Realist style
The artwork depicts three men unloading crates from a vehicle and carrying them to a corner store as a woman and child watch. The crates have the National Recovery Act emblem on their sides: a splayed blue eagle with the red letters “NRA” above. The side of the yellow moving truck reads “STORAGE” in large letters above "HILLCREST 0212W” in smaller letters.
The scene is in an urban setting, with high-rise multi-story buildings and a telephone pole in the background. It likely depicts an area of San Diego near Hillcrest, which is just north of the downtown area. The vehicle’s license plate is “1934,” probably a visual pun on the part of the artist to signify that the mural was being sketched in the year 1934.
Social Realism often celebrated industrial workers as the heart of the nation, suggesting that America’s economic viability – its industrial might – rested on the broad shoulders of these rugged individuals.
Mural Restoration and Relocation
Thought destroyed during 1957-59 renovations, the mural was sealed behind lowered ceiling-tiles and spared total demolition. During routine maintenance, workmen exposed the damaged remains and rediscovered a community treasure in the basement of the original library building.
When rediscovered, the upper part of the mural was still present, but the bottom portion had been obliterated. Sections had been chipped away, exposing plaster, wire mesh, and board-formed concrete walls. Conduit and electrical wires attached in multiple places further damaged the art. At the conclusion of the 2004 maintenance, the mural was again sealed off and hidden from view – but not from the potential danger of further water damage from ongoing water leaks in the building.
The discovery of the lost mural sparked a campaign to fund restoration and relocation led by SDSU anthropology chairman, Dr. Seth Mallios and former SDSU library dean, Connie Vinita Dowell. Through presentations and media coverage, they raised community awareness and secured funding for the project.
In addition to the challenge of raising $66,000 for the restoration, the project faced a major problem because the artist had painted the mural directly onto concrete on a load-bearing wall in a now historically significant building. In spite of the difficulties, the mural was successfully cleaned, consolidated, faced with fabric via adhesive, removed from the wall, transported to the conservator’s workshop, restored, and transported back to SDSU before being reinstalled in the library.
Photographs from the university archives taken by librarians Howard Hess and Gordon Samples in ca.1959 were used to restore the missing portions of the mural. A faux concrete wall surround complemented the installation, as a visual reminder of the mural’s origins. Finished in December 2007, NRA Packages is an artistic focal point in the Reference Services area of the library. Nearby display cases provide interpretative information on the history of the mural.
San Diego State University received a Governor's Historic Preservation Award for 2008 for the WPA-Era Mural Restoration and Relocation. This prestigious award is the only official preservation award presented by the State of California to worthy recipients in recognition of outstanding achievements in the field of historic preservation.