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|Iconic Santa Monica Mural Succumbs to Age, Vandalism|
By Melonie Magruder
December 2, 2011 -- -- Following years of controversy, a popular mural that has graced a wall at the corner of Ocean Park Boulevard and Main Street in Santa Monica has been whitewashed by the building's new owners.
Community efforts to restore the mural led to a clash of public policy and private property rights. The City’s position was that funds were not available for art on private property, and that the building's owners were free to paint whatever they pleased on the wall.("City Can't Restore Mural, Officials Say," June 7, 2007.)
The issue has been a wall-sized headache for the proprietors of ZJ Boarding House, the iconic surf shop that leases the building.
“We tried for years to find a way to restore the mural,” said the shop's co-owner Todd Roberts. “The building’s owners talked with the Main Street Merchants Association, we looked for City funding, we reached out to the original artist. She wanted a pretty penny to do it herself.
"That’s just not something in our budget," Roberts said. "We’re a surf shop.”
For years, the shop had fielded irate messages from locals who chastised the owners for neglecting a city arts treasure, as well as from those furious with the low-rent image the unchecked tagging had given to the intersection.
For a while, a mystery painter attempted in the dead of night to repaint parts of the mural and add new images, attracting even more dedicated graffiti artists.
When new owners took over the property last summer, Roberts said, they were hesitant to take on a project that was of dubious value to their business.
“There were dozens of layers of graffiti covering the mural,” Roberts said. “You leave new graffiti on a building without removing it right away and a tagger’s established new turf.
"It’s hard to get rid of it then. So, as a business, we’re screwed if we don’t do something about it and screwed if we do.”
The Boarding House wants to help sponsor a new mural and has secured permission from the building’s owners to “go for it,” Roberts said.
The shop owners have been talking with a local artist who has offered to donate her time and some materials to produce a new work, Roberts said. He added that he is not looking forward to the “back and forth of getting approval from the city.”
However, Jessica Cusick, Santa Monica's cultural affairs manager, said the City has no purview of art on private property.
“Private property owners do not need to seek permission to install art on their property,” Cusick said. “The only thing a business would need to have vetted is their adherence to signage ordinances, which they would take before the Planning Commission.”
As a general rule, a mural cannot breach signage restrictions by incorporating the name or nature of the business into the artwork, Cusick said.
“The city is very protective of First Amendment rights,” Cusick said. “I would encourage the building owners to have a written agreement with the artist and check with the Planning Commission regarding signage restrictions, but otherwise, I wish them the best of luck in the project.”
If the funds can be raised, Roberts said, a new generation of Ocean Park residents might soon enjoy a fresh, expansive vision of public art.
Golden's iconic work was the result of an innovative drive by the artist to install large murals in public places in Santa Monica.
“That mural was Jane Golden’s first Santa Monica mural,” said Bruria Finkel, co-founder of the city’s Arts Commission. “She found the wall, found some grant funding, then came to the city and said, ‘Can I do this?’
"It was the catalyst for founding the city’s Arts Commission, and she ended up doing so many murals that other local artists began to resent her,” Finkel recalled.
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