Catalina Island is perhaps the only place in the world where Baywatch means something other than the popular television show of that name. Baywatch on this island refers to the cadre of highly trained paramedics, lifeguards, fire fighters and rescuers who handle everything from bee stings to diving accidents to lost hikers. This vital service is celebrated in a ceramic tile mural created by artist Sandow Birk for the fa cade of the new Avalon Lifeguard Paramedic Headquarters dedicated today.
Rendered in blue tones on white tiles in the tradition of azulejo tiles found throughout Europe, North Africa and Latin America, the mural, on the curved wall of the headquarters’ entrance, depicts the idyllic harbor of the town of Avalon. In the distance a plume of smoke rises from a boat as a lifeguard vessel speeds to assistance. In the sky above the dots and dashes of Morse code spell out S.O.S. The mural’s border features sea life from the area, while six vignettes depict the various specialized activities and vehicles of the Baywatch Avalon lifeguards.
The Los Angeles County Arts Commission through its Civic Art Program commissioned the mural as well as the tile work on the headquarters’ staircase risers leading up to the mural. Baywatch Avalon is part of the Lifeguard Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The use of ceramics reflects Catalina’s history of tile making which dates from the 1920s. The staircase tiles mix traditional Catalina Tile Co. tiles with new tiles hand painted by Birk and fabricated by his wife and partner Elyse Pignolet. The risers bear the core values of the Fire Department , Commitment, Courage, Community, Caring, Teamwork, Integrity , and a poem that is the informal code of the U.S. Lifesaving Service.
The Avalon Lifeguard Paramedic Headquarters is located at 440 Avalon Canyon Road in Avalon, a 15-minute walk from the ferry dock.
Sandow Birk worked closely with the staff Baywatch Avalon while developing the artwork for the new headquarters. The lifeguard and paramedic station is 7,005 square feet and includes office space, reception area, living quarters for personnel and a bay for emergency vehicles and watercraft trailers.
Carrie Brown of the Arts Commission was project manager for the Avalon Lifeguard Paramedic Headquarters artwork. Under the County’s Civic Art Policy, adopted in 2004, one percent of design and construction costs on County capital projects over $500,000 is set aside for the incorporation of civic art.