This morning Steve Lopez tells the maddening story of a mom and pop grocery store in Highland Park gets tired of painting over the graffiti every morning. So, noting that some of the other buildings in the area weren’t getting tagged because they had bright colored murals painted on their walls. And the gang members and taggers respected the murals.
So they popped for the $3000 necessary to hire a muralist and his crew.
The mural was a little edgy—a sort of Aztec-modern abstract snake, but it also included a very lovely Our Lady of Guadalupe.
And magically there were no more tags. For three months.
Enter the city, which sent the Antonio family a letter reading:
“ORDER TO COMPLY,” said the letter from the Building and Safety Department, which required the Antonios to remove “excessive signage” under threat of a $1,000 fine “and/or six (6) months imprisonment” for each of four alleged violations.
Curious as to how the Lopez story had affected their situation, I called the Antonios this morning and spoke to Jacob Antonio, 27, who has run the store along with his father since the family bought the store six years ago. “Actually the whole family works here, my uncles, my dad, my mom, a lot of us.”
Jacob told me that, when they got the letter (pre-Lopez), they contacted their Councilman, Ed Reyes, and spoke to a deputy who was very nice…..but zero help.
“Basically they said they’d open a file. But then we never heard anything.”
To avoid a big fine or jail time, the Antonios had no choice but to do a rush job of painting over the mural.
“I mean, we’re working really long hours so there wasn’t a lot of time for painting,” says Jacob.
The tags returned instantly. Every day.
Then enter the LA Times Lopez, who also called the Councilman’s office. And then ABC news showed up.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of action on the issue. Now Councilmember Reyes intends to introduce a measure that would exempt murals from the signage regulations.
And for another thing, says Jacob, the city crews have been coming over to help paint out the graffiti.
Power of the press, I guess. (Should we be happy or sad about this?)
Mostly, the Antonios would like their mural back. (Lopez has an idea about how to make it happen.) In addition to being a graffiti prophylactic, it stirred a lot of neighborhood comment.
“To be honest,” says Jacob, “most people really liked it. Some of the older people don’t like if you do a modern Our Lady of Guadalupe because, in their minds, you shouldn’t make any changes to the image of the Virgin.”
The majoriy of the neighborhood’s passing art critics, however, think the market’s spray-painted, impressionistic Guadalupe is beautiful,
Judging by the (pre-paint-over) photo above, she is beautiful. And she deters graffiti.
At least she did.