One of the Largest Murals in the Valley is a Lesson in Encino History

From Tarzan to King Kong.

  • Category
    Arts, People
  • Written by
    Linda Grasso
  • Photographed by
    Jeffrey Fiterman
Phillip Leonard’s latest endeavor is one of his largest murals yet. “Encino—An Homage” runs a staggering 85 by 25 feet across a wall that runs perpendicular to Ventura Boulevard. The wall is the side of a building across from Target and faces one of the Valley’s most iconic businesses, the erstwhile Ventura Car Wash. Although it now has a new look and name—QuikWash—the original 1959 vintage sign remains. The massive montage captures history from 1769—when Encino became the Valley’s first European settlement—and reaches into the future to the 2028 LA Olympics.

Phillip Leonard

“It’s an epic preservation of history on a wall,”  says Phillip.

Aside from the Olympics depiction, most of the illustrations are nods to Encino. Oak trees adorn the painting; “Encino” means “oak” in Spanish. There are also acorns, the seed from which oaks are born. It is easy to spot several local landmarks, including Sepulveda Dam. The mural also references Encino’s filmmaking history, with illustrations of RKO Studios—which was based in Encino—and movies that were filmed locally, including King Kong (1933) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).

Phillip and his crew, several of whom are buddies from his days as a student at CSUN, were faced with constant obstacles during the project. Working with graphic designer Jason Van Winkle and fellow painter Oscar Pelayo, the group started working on the project in January 2021. “It was the peak of COVID and right after what happened at the Capitol. The time was dark and depressing; we really felt the need to uplift with public art,” says Phillip.

Jason Van Winkle

Based on the car wash owner’s desire to capture the history of Encino, they created four designs in all.

“I’ve found great joy using walls as canvases for art—to be enjoyed and interpreted by all walks of life regardless of culture, language, or social status.”

But the car wash was sold in May 2022 and the new ownership group wanted to get rid of the 2,000-square-foot mural because it didn’t fit their plans to renovate the facility. “Luckily the actual building owners wanted to keep the mural. The new car wash owners were gracious enough to allow us to complete it this year.”

The location was also a challenge. The project faces the area where motorists line up for a wash, and it can get busy during the day. So Philip and his crew had to paint at night using helmets with lights.

The design before it was painted by the team

And there was a money problem. The original ownership group kicked in $6,000 to fund the mural—but it turned out to be not enough. It took $5,000 of that money just to rent the aerial lifts needed to paint the upper levels of the mural. In January, Nithya Raman “came to the rescue.” The councilmember’s office (LA’s 4th District) donated $4,000 and the mural was completed in April.

It was a constant roller-coaster ride, requiring lots of coordination and effort. Still, Phillip wouldn’t change anything.

“Ever since my first group mural at Sepulveda Junior High School in the mid-’80s, I’ve found great joy using walls as canvases for art—to be enjoyed and interpreted by all walks of life regardless of culture, language, or social status. Murals, or wall paintings, are how humanity has communicated since the beginning of time. They’re a way to add beauty where there is none, and to preserve history. Creating murals gives me life and purpose and allows me to be the change I want to see in the world.”

Phillip with fellow painters (left to right): Eve Eeling, Cheryl Polakow, Oscar Pelayo and Alon Karpovsky

Phillip started his mural company, Writing on the Walls, in 2019. When production work slowed down during the pandemic, he dived into developing his passion. Among the earlier Valley works he has spearheaded: a piece commemorating the 40th anniversary of E.T. on White Oak Avenue commissioned by the Granada Hills Business Improvement Association. He and his fellow painters also created a tribute mural for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna at Saticoy Street and White Oak Avenue in Reseda.

While Phillip is most often leading the charge, he is adamant about the fact that he doesn’t do it alone—and that includes the Encino mural.

“Like me, the artists put in a lot of time on this project during the pandemic. And like me, they were trying to find a new way of life and existence. To me, the Encino mural is a beautiful tale of the way we all converged in Encino, a place where there isn’t much public art. I think it turned out well. It is Ventura Boulevard’s largest mural—if not the best.”

For more on Phillip go to

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