The Blessing of the Animals has been an annual tradition in the Plaza since 1938. This popular event, with its colorful mix of animals and people, is captured in Leo Politi's large mural on the Biscauluz Building. Dedicated on April 4, 1978 by Cardinal Timothy Manning,1 the mural recalls some of the people who participated in the ceremony over the years: a blind harp player who performed the song "La Paloma" during the sparcely attended processions during the 1940's; a tall thin violinist who regularly played on Olvera Street and was the basis for the grandfather in Politi's classic children's book "Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street"; a lady with poodles who worked in a booth on Olvera Street; and Emmet and Oscar -- Politi's own dogs under the stairway.2
The mural also portrays Politi's observations made while executing the piece, including the sparrows that fed at his feet on quiet days and a baby, which he depicted in a basket on a donkey's back. Painted with acrylics, these memories and observations are expressed in Politi's highly individualized and distinctive style that captures both simplicity and gentility.3
After the Filippa Pollia Foundation commissioned the mural in 1971, Politi submitted a proposal to paint the Blessing of the Animals to the park's governing agency, the El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park Commission. He chose the topic because the blessing was an old California custom as well as an annual spring event in the Plaza. He also felt the ceremony is about children, animals and flowers, which were figures Politi painted best.4 Two years passed before the Commission accepted Politi's proposal and selected a site for the work. The Filippa Pollia Foundation, established in 1936 by Joseph Pollia and named in memory of his daughter,5 disbursed $5,000 for the acrylic paint and scaffold.6 Politi first sketched the figures on the wall with charcoal. He then painted the outline in brown paint and finally added color and shading to give the figures shape.7 During the four years (1974-78) he worked on the mural, Politi also carved the wood ornament over the entrance to the building, and designed the stained glass and tile at the foot of the mural that bear the mural's title.Footnotes
1"Dedication of Mural Set at Olvera Street," Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1978, Pt. IV, p. 7.
2 "How the Mural Came About," by Leo Politi, March 3, 1978.
3 "A Gift for Los Angeles, " The Tidings, March 31, 1978, p. 1.
4 "How the Mural Came About," op. cit.
5"Labor of Love in Memory of Little Girl," Press Release, Los Angeles City Recreation and Parks Department, September 23, 1974.
6 "Mural Completed in L.A. Park Unit," Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, September 24, 1974, P. A-15.
7 "How the Mural Came About," op. cit.