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Column: Vandalism or street art. What the graffiti-tagged high-rises say about L.A.

From a parking lot on the corner of 12th and Figueroa streets, Michael Lopez carefully piloted his drone through the skyline surrounding L.A. Live.

A video screen showed the drone slowly rising. Things kept getting better and better until he finally took a shot almost straight from Ansel Adams. San Gabriel Mountains covered in clouds. The green foothills are shining with the recent rain. And an abandoned, half-baked high-rise building filled with bright, cheery graffiti.

Two other towers were similarly attacked, leaving graffiti on the corners of the floors of buildings over 20 stories high.

Tagged graffiti was left this week on the unfinished Oceanwide Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The boldness and attention of Tugger's feat – visible from the Sixth Street Bridge, far from the 10th Freeway – and the fact that the Grammy Awards will be held across the street at the Crypto.com Arena on Sunday , has fascinated people all over the world. Note.

It also became LA's latest Rorschach test.

To civic leaders and professional Los Angeles haters, it's the latest evidence that the city is stuck in a cycle of destruction, with another round of street occupations, homeless encampments, and mass break-ins adding fuel to the dumpster fire. It's a nightmare. The $1 billion mega-facility, called Oceanwide Plaza, was once one of the city's biggest real estate projects, but construction was halted five years ago after Chinese developers ran out of money.

But for Lopez, the graffiti-covered building that was supposed to house a hotel, retail stores, and even luxury condominiums and apartments has become the latest manifestation of his love for his hometown.

“It's beautiful. It's amazing,” he said. He held a photo taken with a drone and waved to a friend who identified himself as Juan G. They drove from South Los Angeles to see the scene.

“I know there are pros and cons,” Huang said deadpanly, adding, “I'm sure the people living in the loft across the street didn't like being seen!”

He continued to crane his neck upwards. I rattled off a few tags that were visible from the floor below — Axion. Inks. cut. XN28.

“You'll never see anything like this again,” Juan continued. “The rules are going to change. Security is going to be here. difficult. But have you ever participated in it? Want to see this up close? It's a once in a lifetime moment. ”

I'm not a fan of graffiti, but I couldn't help but admire what the taggers accomplished. Before us was a monument to current Los Angeles that, consciously or not, highlights so many issues. Uncontrolled development of downtown is rampant. Civil corruption. Out-of-control graffiti.

It's a place with so many possibilities, Desmadre.

If someone tried this at Art Basel, it would sell for millions of dollars. If Banksy were to pull off a project of this scale, he would be hailed as a genius. Because it's a mostly anonymous group of people (two people were arrested and released), polite LA is in an uproar. Even City Councilman Kevin de Leon, who represents downtown, came out of his den on Groundhog Day to tell KTLA Channel 5 that Los Angeles shouldn't be an “open canvas.” [for] Up-and-coming artists. ”

It's easy to paint the taggers as vandals bent on destroying Los Angeles, but the towers have rotted away while Los Angeles' bureaucracy has done little to address the situation.

Taggers painted graffiti on a downtown Los Angeles skyscraper believed to be at least 25 stories tall.

Oceanwide Plaza was empty and nearly forgotten until a group of taggers spray-painted graffiti on the tower.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Instead, taggers took it upon themselves to transform something ugly into something more vibrant. Isn't that LA at its best?

Their use of the medium of street art makes their work even more Angeleno.

For decades, the city has felt besieged by graffiti. I used to estimate driving time on I-10 by tracking exit ramps on highway signs. Now I can do it based on which giant tag in which giant warehouse I just passed.

At worst, graffiti does nothing to beautify a neighborhood. But what happened at Oceanwide Plaza was no random graffiti. The ingenuity of methodically bombarding every nook and cranny of dozens of names embodies the teamwork we should all strive for. The failure here is due to a company that cannot afford to hire security personnel, and the city government, which should never have approved this disadvantageous project in the first place.

Additionally, graffiti has been a part of working-class Southern California for decades. Even as a nerdy teenager, I scratched the word “Pharaoh” on windows and wooden desks in eighth grade until a security guard at my school in Anaheim took away my etching tools. There's something liberating and righteous about seeing an art form long demonized as vandalism simultaneously appropriated by big business and occupying such a visible space downtown. It even gave a sense of sexuality.

“All of this is not just for developers,” Lopez said. “It belongs to all of us.”

A two-story street-art-style mural featuring Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard loomed over the parking lot where he and Juan were standing. All around him were graffiti bromides that mimicked graffiti like “Never Never Give Up” and “Follow Your Dreams,” but were just as cool as mom jeans.

“People call this art,” Huang said before waving back toward the skyscrapers. that? ”

I parted ways with them and walked to the front of Crypto.com Arena. There I found Zach Woodard taking photos of tagged skyscrapers and asked his friend to take a photo with the building in the background. Above his head, a tattered, pockmarked white banner reading “Oceanwide Plaza'' hung from an unfinished structure.

“When I took an Uber here on Wednesday, it was only halfway done,” said Woodard, who is in town for the Grammy Awards as program director for the Grammy Museum in Mississippi. “It's really impressive to see how quickly they completed it.”

Another friend, Rachel Patterson, kept her head up. “I never imagined it would go that far!”

“People say it's going to make the skyline look worse,” Woodard said. “But it won't be there forever. Well done. Plus, street art is part of his LA history.”

He asked me what that building was supposed to be. When I talked about housing and retail, Woodard scoffed – “It's just like everything else in L.A.”

As I drove, I passed the parking lot where I met Lopez and Juan. More people surrounded them, all looking up and smiling broadly.

I smiled too. Los Angeles has many problems, but tagged ruins, which bring happiness to locals and tourists alike, are the least of them.

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