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Graffiti defaces Fairfax store

March 27, 2009|James Wagner
  • A customer peeks through a window to see if the Palace Costume Co. is open. Starting about a year ago, graffiti covered the store faster than people could scrub it away
A customer peeks through a window to see if the Palace Costume Co. is open.… (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles…)

For decades, the Palace Costume Co. in the Fairfax district has stood as a neighborhood landmark.

Colorful murals and scenes painted on large wood panels adorned the buildings' facades, giving the shop the look of a movie set. The scenes depicted several members of the owner's family in period dress cavorting about in different historical settings, stretching back to the 15th century.

The artwork cost roughly $80,000 and took four years to complete.

But now it's all gone.

Taggers have covered the costume company's buildings in graffiti, reducing them to a neighborhood eyesore. The defaced wood panels have been taken down and placed in storage.

"It's very disappointing," said Melody Barnett, the shop's owner. "We took great care of our building. We took pride in this place."

The shop has provided costumes to Hollywood production companies from its Fairfax Avenue location since 1976. It boasts nearly half a million articles of vintage clothing, shoes and accessories that have appeared in numerous TV shows and movies, including "Boogie Nights" and the Academy Award-winning "A Beautiful Mind" and "Road to Perdition."

Neighbors said they were surprised by the brazen attack on such a high-profile building. They worry that the graffiti indicates a bigger problem.

"It's on a very visible location," said Paul Lerner, a coordinator with Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch. "It's really in-your-face graffiti. And that's particularly obnoxious for us."

Police know about the Palace Costume Co. but have not launched an official investigation because no crime report was filed, according to Capt. Eric T. Davis of the Los Angeles Police Department's Wilshire Division. But Barnett insists that she did file a report after the graffiti first appeared.

The ordeal began nearly a year ago. Barnett arrived at work early one morning to find "Dr. Sex" spray-painted in huge block letters across the top of the shop's tallest building. Spatters of paint were also splashed on the first-floor murals.

Barnett ran across the street to get a better look at the scope of the destruction. "I was shocked," she said.

The costume company spent nearly $2,000 to clean up the mess, Barnett said, but more graffiti inscriptions appeared within a week. If anything, the scrubbing seemed to encourage the taggers.

"It was like a blank canvas again," Barnett said.

Indeed, the taggers returned again and again. Nearly 100 times, the owner estimates.

"They came with such ferocity we couldn't keep up," said Terence McCatty, the L.A.-based muralist who completed the Palace project in 2001. McCatty laments what he considers the rise in tagging.

Barnett places part of the blame for the graffiti problem on a 93-unit apartment complex under construction next door. Once the scaffolding went up for the project, she said, vandals used it to climb up onto the second-floor roof of one of her buildings.

Before the construction began more than two years ago, Barnett said, she never had a serious graffiti problem.

Matt Levy, vice president with Sherman Oaks-based Frost/Chaddock Developers, said he isn't sure how taggers accessed the costume shop's roof but noted that his scaffolding is also scrawled with graffiti. He said that his company recently talked with Barnett but that they had not decided what, if any, joint action they would take.

"We are both having graffiti challenges and trying to combat the problem," he said.

City Councilman Jack Weiss, whose district includes the Fairfax neighborhood, said he was alarmed by what taggers had done to the costume shop. He said he worked with the neighborhood watch group to appropriate an extra $40,000 for the community's city-run graffiti removal program.

"It's a crying shame," Weiss said. "It shows the wanton disrespect that graffiti taggers have for their community."

But Leon Massoth, who runs a plant nursery across the street from the costume shop, said the vandalism didn't surprise him. He said that his property has also been tagged with graffiti and that sometimes he has found spray cans strewn on the sidewalk.

"This is L.A.," he said. "What do you expect?"

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james.wagner@latimes.com

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