El Dia del Mercado (Market Day) by Alfredo Ramos Martinez
About the Artist
The fresco mural El Dia del Mercado is a major work of art by one of the preeminent Mexican artists of the 20th century Ramos Martinez. Martinez spent many years studying art in Paris at the turn of the last century, in the company of artists such as Picasso, Matisse, and Braque. He then became director of the National Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico City, where he launched a national "open-air" art education program that counted Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo among its students. He was proficient in several styles of painting but ultimately rejected these in favor of an indigenous style that reflected the rural scenes of his native Mexico. Alfredo Ramos Martinez was commissioned to paint the fresco murals for the La Avenida Cafe in 1938. He was already 74 years old, having come to the United States seeking intensive medical care for his young daughter. Ramos Martinez painted five murals at the La Avenida Cafe in different rooms. Three of the murals survived.
The 48-foot-long mural over the front desk is called “El Dia del Mercado,” and the painting has a long history in Coronado. The artist, Alfredo Ramos Martinez, was a Mexican muralist who had studied art in Paris during the early 20th century. Martinez directed the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and launched an open-air school of painting. His work is strongly influenced by the indigenous art themes of Mexico. In 1929, the Martinez family traveled to the U.S. and eventually settled in Los Angeles in 1930, where Ramos Martinez reestablished his reputation by painting murals for members of the Hollywood film community, including Alfred Hitchcock. Eventually, he was commissioned to paint the two murals for La Avenida Cafe in Coronado: “El Dia del Mercado” and “Canasta de Flores,” in addition to two other murals that no longer exist. “The La Avenida Cafe murals in Coronado are considered some of Ramos Martinez’s major works,” says Christian Esquevin, Director of the Coronado Library, in his informative booklet about the paintings. “[The murals were] executed during his full maturity and using his favored themes and subjects, such as fruits, flowers, rural Mexico, and women going to market, depicted at a time now long gone.”
La Avenida Cafe was originally built in 1938 at 1301 Orange Ave, where the restaurant Bistro d’Asia is currently located. For $1,000, Martinez painted the main mural in the dining room opposite the front doors. The murals were frescoes, painted onto smooth fresco plaster with tempera as paint. “The reason they have cutouts was because of the doorways in the restaurants,” explains Esquevin. “One was to a kitchen, another one was to another room. The tables actually went right up against the mural.” The La Avenida Cafe became a favorite dining spot for visitors to Coronado and the Hotel del Coronado, and the murals themselves also attracted attention and admirers. Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe and Errol Flynn dined at La Avenida Cafe frequently while staying at the Del. “The place was a really popular restaurant for many years,” continues Esquevin. “But eventually it had passed its prime, changed owners, and finally closed down. They were going to tear down the building, including the murals, so there was an outcry in Coronado about what was going to happen to the murals. The last owners of the building said, ‘OK, we’ll save the murals and donate them to the city.’ “[The mural] was offered to the library by Gus and Barbara Theberge, owners of the La Avenida. The Library tried to find a place for it, but that was before [the 2005] expansion. The mural is 40 feet long, and there was not a place to put it. The Library had to turn it down, and so the Theberges gave it to the City of Coronado, who then put it in storage. It was cut down into five panels.” In 1995, the library began to plan for this expansion, which Christian Esquevin has mentioned more extensively in this personal interview. Construction began in 2003, and the expansion completed in 2005. “When we were doing our expansion,” Christian says, “I said, ‘Well, we have to find a place to put this mural!'” From 1998 on, the library worked to receive approval from the Coronado City Council to install the mural in the library and also to receive funding for its restoration. The Council gave approval in 2001, and in 2003 Nathan Zakheim and Associates began an extensive restoration process in an old airport hangar outside Los Angeles. The restoration took over a year to complete thanks to extensive damage from restaurant remodels, the addition of electrical outlet covers, a fire in 1981, and water damage from a hole in La Avenida Cafe’s ceiling.
Back at the library, the current lobby was added to the building during the restoration, and it was decided that the “El Dia del Mercado” would hang on the wall over the main desk, a wall that had once been the exterior of the library. A new glass curtain wall would provide views of the mural even at night. The construction team installed a steel frame over the library desk with neoprene rubber to accommodate jarring seismic vibrations. Piece by piece, Nathan Zakheim, and his crew fit the mural into the frame. On June 10, 2005, the Library opened its doors to reveal this magnificent piece of Coronado history on display once again for all to enjoy.