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To Chris Brown, it's art; his neighbors see a monster nuisance

Pop star Chris Brown's home includes outside walls with massive paintings of monsters, 8 feet tall in bright neon colors. Some say the images frighten children.

May 10, 2013|Kate Mather and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Colorful, and toothy, faces adorn a retaining wall at entertainer Chris Brown’s Hollywood Hills house. Residents have complained, but his lawyer, Mark Geragos, says it’s a 1st Amendment issue.
Colorful, and toothy, faces adorn a retaining wall at entertainer Chris… (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)

Rinconia Drive is one of those narrow, tree-shaded roads that snakes up the Hollywood Hills, lined with a mix of older bungalows and towering modern mansions.

But when you get to Chris Brown's concrete-and-steel-and-glass Jay Vanos-designed home, the mood changes dramatically. A flashy Lamborghini is parked in front, blocking the sidewalk and part of the street. A creature in a silver spacesuit is perched on a ledge.

And on the walls are massive paintings of monsters, standing 8 feet tall in bright neon colors. Their bulging eyeballs and giant fangs loom over the canyon.

To the pop star, this is art.

But to his neighbors, it's the latest insult in what has been an increasingly testy relationship. They say the monsters are scaring neighborhood kids and ruining the hillside aesthetic of the area below Lake Hollywood.

"There are lots of babies, lots of children, and they're literally frightened. It's like devils on the wall — big scary eyes and big scary teeth, and just the whole vibe is not what we're used to," said Patti Negri, president of the Hollywood Dell Civic Assn.

Negri is quick to point out that she has nothing against celebrities. Many live quietly in the area, and Negri bills herself as a celebrity psychic who once choreographed dance numbers for David Hasselhoff.

Brown is far from the first celebrity to ruffle neighborhood feathers. Not far away, Madonna drew protests in the 1990s when she painted her Hollywood Hills home in red and yellow stripes. Residents pulled the welcome mat from Lindsay Lohan over an endless procession of paparazzi and others speeding on her street. Justin Bieber's neighbors in Calabasas complain that his entourage regularly races through the suburban gated community.

But the Brown feud has taken on a life of its own.

"Chris himself did not warm himself to the neighborhood when he first got here, so this is kind of the straw that broke the camel's back," said Negri, adding that the community is fed up with his noisy parties and fast cars.

Responding to complaints about the monster art, L.A. city code officials cited Brown for unpermitted and excessive signage and ordered him to remove the art within 30 days. He also faces fines that start at $376 but could rise significantly if he fails to comply.

"They jump right out at you. They aren't just at the curb by the bins. It is all the way up the side of the house," said Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes Brown's colorful abode.

Brown's attorney, Mark Geragos, said the musician is not backing down. He says Brown has more to fear from the neighbors than the other way around.

"I'm scared of neighborhood busybodies like this," Geragos said. "They've called animal control. They have sicced parking [enforcement] on him, and now they reached the heights of ridiculousness here. Shame on them."

Geragos said the city can expect a legal fight over Brown's personal artwork, which unwittingly thrust him into one of L.A.'s longest-running civic debates. Although the city has a reputation for being the street mural capital of the world, much of that artwork has been done illicitly.

City ordinances make it illegal to create murals on the vast majority of private properties.

"They are trying to suspend the 1st Amendment," Geragos said.

Negri remains hopeful that Brown and his neighbors can mend fences.

"I know a $300 fine is probably pocket change. But hopefully and maybe, he'll just see the light and decide to be a good neighbor," she said. "We're happy to have him — if he just tones it down."

kate.mather@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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