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L.A. Attempts Artistic Approach to Curing Epidemic of Graffiti

May 05, 1988|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

In the biggest offensive ever launched against the growing graffiti problem in Los Angeles, a task force of 4,000 volunteers will clean and repaint an entire eight-block stretch of buildings on Hollywood Boulevard this month.

The project, focusing on the blighted area between Van Ness and Western avenues, is the brainchild of the Mayor's Committee for Graffiti Removal and a Florida designer who is a disciple of the environmental artist Christo.

Anti-Graffiti Coating

The ambitious and unusual plans call for totally repainting the dozens of graffiti-ridden buildings in color-coordinated "dusty pastel" shades such as "Aztec Gold," "Cape Cod Blue" and "Sahara Rose." A special anti-graffiti coating will also be applied to the buildings to protect them from future defacement.

Stuart Haines, who heads the city's graffiti committee, said the project represents the first major step toward curbing the graffiti epidemic.

"We thought it would really make a statement if we could totally clean up one area," Haines said. "And this is one of the most dangerous and blighted areas in the city. So if it works here, it might work in other places too."

The graffiti paint-out project will take place May 21 and 22. Haines said city officials have spent several months lining up the support of area merchants and property owners and developing a game plan for the event, which will also feature high school marching bands, cheerleaders and celebrities.

Jim Weinberg, the environmental design consultant who created the plan after supervising similar projects in Florida, said workers, including 250 professional painters on loan from the Painting and Decorating Contractors Assn., will transform the blighted stretch of businesses overnight.

In Need of Help

"My concept is to take every building, every curb, every light post, every square inch for eight blocks and turn a negative area into a positive one," Weinberg said. "The whole spirit is to make this something phenomenal."

The economically depressed area just east of the Hollywood Freeway could use the help. Until recently it was ranked as one of the city's most notorious drug and prostitution havens, police say. Even today, with crime somewhat less prevalent, there is an overpowering sense of urban decay.

Scattered among the graffiti-ridden shoe repair shops and discount stores are vacant storefronts with cracked facades and blackened windows. The area also features an adult bookstore, a pool hall and a Salvadoran restaurant.

Los Angeles police Cmdr. Bob Taylor, a former Hollywood Division captain who also sits on the mayor's graffiti committee, said the Hollywood Boulevard-Western Avenue neighborhood is a "pretty hostile" place.

"I couldn't think of a better site for this project," Taylor said. "It's important for the people who live and work there to see some relief from this visual blight. . . . And it's also important for visitors to Hollywood."

Arthur Ito has operated a flower shop near the corner of Western Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard for 26 years. The florist said the ethnically mixed area has had more than its share of problems, including gang activity.

Ito, a strong supporter of the graffiti cleanup project, sees it as a good way to boost community pride. "It's something that has to be tried," he said. "We'll have to see how it goes, but everybody is very enthused about it."

Haines said the cleanup project, which is unprecedented in its scope, comes at a time when officials obviously need to get the upper hand on graffiti. Although the Mayor's Committee for Graffiti Removal and Prevention has given away 15,000 gallons of paint to people who want to cover over graffiti, by all accounts they have not even come close to keeping pace with the amount of spray paint on buildings in the city.

The cost of removing graffiti from RTD buses alone has jumped from $1 million in 1985 to about $6 million this year, according to an RTD spokesman.

The scrawlings remain a favored form of communication among Los Angeles gang members. And, thanks to rebellious youths who have taken their cue from gangs, graffiti are becoming far more prevalent in affluent areas.

"Graffiti (have) a snowballing effect," Haines said. "Now that the problem has grown to epidemic stages, we have to do whatever we can to remove it."

The idea of thoroughly cleaning and repainting an entire section of town instead of patching over specific spots where graffiti were found came to light last summer when Weinberg, who had worked on cleanup projects in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood, Fla., contacted Los Angeles officials.

Weinberg, who draws his inspiration from Christo, an artist known for whimsical and often outrageous environmental projects, such as swathing a Paris bridge in 444,000 square feet of polymede fabric, said his idea from the start was to eradicate graffiti by creating something visually exciting. In each prior instance, Weinberg said his projects, such as tunnels and other public properties have remained graffiti-free.

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