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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux
A crowd of community members gathered around the front entrance of Hennessey’s Tavern in San Juan Capistrano on Thursday, July 15, to watch the unveiling of a new mural that depicts the town’s history.
The 11-foot-high, 17-foot-long mural was created by sculptor Randy Morgan, with input from local residents Stephen Rios and Matt Belardes. The mural, called Old San Juan, is visible when walking or driving by Capistrano Plaza in the downtown area.
The installation was commissioned by property owner and developer Dan Almquist, who lives in town and is behind the upcoming River Street Marketplace, as well as potential plans for new downtown housing and a performing arts center.
The mural is made up of seven panels that depict various aspects of San Juan history, including the founding of the Los Rios Historical District and the area’s Vaqueros cattle drivers.
“One of the main things I’ve gotten out of this is you folks are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Morgan said. “I learned a lot about the history of San Juan. Being a local kid but a beach kid, I would come to San Juan on Swallow’s Day. I thought it was cowboys and rodeo and stuff like that but as I peeled back the onion and—with Dan’s direction—to find out the early history of San Juan … wow, what a story.”
Rios and Belardes, who have deep generational roots in the area, were brought in to ensure historical details were accurate. The mural took months to complete. Morgan and Almquist were introduced to each other by former Mayor Kerry Ferguson, who Almquist said was a “big part of making this happen.”
“Matt was a huge contribution to this,” Rios said. “Dan called me over almost two years ago, perhaps nine months ago, and said he had an idea. I went over to ZOOMARS and met with him and he talked about doing something that would make downtown San Juan proud—a representation of early Capo, early San Juan, the Capistrano Valley.”
Almquist said the idea for the mural came up a couple of years ago, and Rios brought Belardes into the discussion.
“It took a long time to figure out what would be appropriate, what would be inclusive, and what would be fitting for a prominent location in downtown,” Almquist said. “I’m very, deeply grateful to be here and for all of you to show up. It’s a blessing, for me, to do something that, hopefully, is a positive ambition—the art downtown.”
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.