Highland Park art project falls into foreclosure

Photos by Martha Benedict

Earlier this year artists and residents gathered to celebrate the transformation of a worn out Highland Park bungalow into a giant canvas covered with colorful images of birds and volcanoes.  The colorful  images painted as part of an international art project reflected the Nicaraguan homeland of the Zuniga family, who lived in the  110-year-old Marmion Way house. Earlier this year, however, the Zuniga home –  a familiar sight to passengers on the Metro Gold Line  that passes only a few feet away – fell into foreclosure and has now been put up for sale by the bank  for $189,000, according to Redfin. What is going to happen to the bird and volcano?

Kathy Gallegos of Avenue 50 Studio  in Highland Park is trying to find out if any buyer would be required to preserve the mural.  The Casas Arte Home Intervention Project received a $10,000 grant to paint the house as part of a transnational project that has worked with international artists to paint house and building facades in the U.S. and Mexico.

“I passed by last week and was horrified to find that windows had been broken, graffiti was being scrawled and that the house has a lock,” said Gallegos. “I don’t want the house painted over. We’re going to ask the owners (now known as the bank) if we can repaint if they would please fix the windows and make sure derelicts don’t descend.”

But finding a buyer that wants a home next to the Gold Line Tracks and would be willing to keep the paintings could be a challenge.  “The amazing painting on the building is a neighborhood landmark now after only one year and it sure would be a shame to see it replaced with high gloss grey paint with white trim and a horizontal wood fence,” said said neighborhood real estate agent Adam Bray-Ali with Zip Realty (Bray-Ali does not represent the seller).

Martha Benedict, a member of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council who photographed the home, said a new buyer won’t have a strong connection to the paintings.

“The sad part is the subjects of the murals were all related to the history of the family who lived in the house,”  said Benedict, who snapped photos of the house during this March’s ceremony. “Their background was in Nicaragua. It won’t be meaningful to another owner. So sad.”

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  1. What’s the zoning? Perhaps a buyer with a commercial venture in mind would be the option?

  2. Whoever wants to preserve it should buy it. Considering its location, it would make an excellent community center, art gallery, coffee shop, etc. Could be exciting.

  3. Its RESIDENTIAL. Put people in it, not products.

  4. I could not agree more with Waltaaaar. It looks like this will be flipped by an investor and back on the market +200k, without the mural, but with the horizontal fence…

  5. $10,000 to spray paint a house? Maybe they should have used a brush and paint in a can. More economical.

  6. Aaargh! First the bank kicks these people out just because they couldn’t pay their mortgage, even after they had improved the neighborhood by spray painting their house in bright colors, and now it wants to sell it someone who will probably make it look normal like every other house. It makes me crazy. What about art?! When someone takes the trouble to spray paint their house, it should be preserved as art immediately and forever. This house belongs to the community now, as far as I’m concerned.

  7. I know I’m going to get tons of flack for this but in a hypothetical situation wherein I would buy this foreclosure, the first thing to go would be that mural. Landmark, schmandmark– it’s just tacky.

  8. $189,000 seems like a very fair price for the house, considering the lot size and the size of the home itself. However, I don’t think it would be a great candidate for a real-estate flipper, given its proximity to the Gold Line train. Down the street from a Metro station = ideal and convenient. Next to the tracks = not so much.

  9. i cant tell if desmond is being sarcastic or not.. almost too subtle

  10. i mean i can’t tell if he’s posing as a real blatant idiot or actually is an idiot. if it’s the former, i applaud you, sir.

  11. When these people left their house, they abandoned 2 dogs and 4 cats. The yard was disgusting, filled with garbage and rotting food. Some caring folks took turns making sure the animals had food and water until they could be humanely trapped. None of the animals went to a kill shelter and they all received medical care. They’re now safe and warm and loved. Whoever lived here is scum in my books.

  12. you capitalize your name? you think you’re better than me?

  13. Chris, they also left a large bird at the house (see photo).

  14. @Chris— Woah woah woah. These people abandoned SIX animals?!?!?!? Oh HELL no. I concur, they are scum. There are quite alternatives out there for people in financial distress to surrender their animals to that do not include giving them to a kill shelter. Straight up abandoning them is a sure sign of their character. They spent all their money on that ridiculous mural instead of provisions for the living creatures in their home. Awful.

    • Sorry, in my anger about the animals being abandoned I had a typo above– it should read:
      “There are quite a few alternatives out there for people in financial distress to surrender their animals to that do not include giving them to a kill shelter.”

  15. Yes, they abandoned 2 dogs and 4 cats (one of the dogs, a brown mixed male, was a neighborhood favorite). They also erected illegal and really gross living quarters in the backyard. Apparently at least ten people were living there, including an infant and a toddler. I say good riddance.

  16. The Redfin listing clearly shows the illegal living quarters in the backyard.

  17. It is a shame that these people were negligent about their animals. I despise people that abandon animals because it’s easier. Same thing with people that add on unpermitted structures to their properties. These people were not responsible about proper codes or housing laws.

  18. Yes, indeed, these people left their animals in a filthy, trashy, unsafe situation. They didn’t even have the decency to come back and leave essentials of food and water for their 6 unspayed and unneutered animals, of which four were females. Thanks to the wonderful neighbors who took on their care and alerted rescuers to their plight. Shame on the Zuniga family!

  19. I wonder what the story is here. Redfin shows the house being sold at a foreclosure auction in July — which means the owners were already in foreclosure when the murals were painted in March. It just seems sad all around. And just leaving your animals behind — yikes, there is no excuse for that.

  20. Art is the detritus of living a creative life. The act of living a creative life should always come before the object, but damn, this culture is stuck in it’s ways and won’t let the object go. Art is not just an object! That is why I absolutely love art objects that are temporary; that disappear, but still leave you with something. Andy Goldsworthy comes to mind. Anyway…

    My opinion? The house is tacky as shit. You have the right to call it art, and I have the right to call it bad art. Or tacky shit. Whoever buys the house will most certainly have the right to paint over it. Unless they decide not to. I love art!

  21. That paint job would be cute on the parking lot wall of a bird store. On a house, it’s worse than tacky, it’s an eye-sore. How’d they get a permit to do that?

  22. The art, whatever you may think of it, pales in comparison to the awful reality of these people abandoning their entire family of animals who had come to depend on them for food, shelter and safety. Pretty birds painted on the wall and real starving, scared dogs and cats. The Zunigas poisoned the spot and the mural should be relocated or memorialized in a photo

  23. Thanks for the applause, chris. These comments make the point nicely. Unfortunately, there are sad, broken people in our community who will champion this kind of tacky kitch as part of our cultural heritage. I’m only chagrined that the new owners, whoever they may be, will not share in the history of the family who lived there and therefore won’t fully understand the mural. So sad. I too hope that any buyer will be required to preserve the mural, as well as the illegal living quarters in the backyard, the mounds of garbage, and the six unspayed and unneutered animals, to give this fine example of art its proper context.

  24. Unfortunately, when the owners left the home they also left their pets… several cats and several dogs… who were discovered by neighbors, who began leaving food out for them. Local animal rescue people heard about the situation, stepped in and rescued the animals. Incidentally, the house was also left totally trashed inside. It may be beautifully painted on the outside, but that’s all that is beautiful about the place, or its former owners.

  25. This isn’t freakin Nicaragua.

  26. If the house really did foreclose for $430k +/- (which usually represents the outstanding balance on the house – I doubt the foreclosure ‘auction’ note), it makes one wonder where the additional $300k in upgrades went. Sad.

    Kudos to the neighbors though for jumping in there and rescuing the animals.

  27. Cristi – The former owners probably refinanced and used the proceeds for other things (i.e., new cars, paying off other debts, etc.).

  28. What’s so wrong with fixing up this house and a horizontal fence? Let’s make Highland Park the beautiful place it should be. We live in a city with hills all around us, parks, the Southwest Museum (which needs to be re-opened) art galleries, small businesses, craftsman style houses, spanish style houses, c’mon people! Show some pride, pick up a broom, take care of your houses, and your pets! What’s so bad with being normal?!?

  29. I’ve seen so many illegal/converted garage living quarters, ugly embellishments, and neglected yards in this area. It’s a shame … such good bones these little houses have.

  30. Seems with a mortgage on $430K they should have been working more to pay the mortgage rather than spray painting on the house.

  31. I don’t think people are saying that the horizontal fence by itself is bad. What I was quoted as saying is that the artwork on this house has become a real local landmark both for those of us in the area and those transiting through by train.

    I hope that someone buys this house and fixes it to their tastes. After visiting it myself, i was surprised by the outbuildings but the bones of the main house are pretty solid. I’d say that someone looking for an easy repair project could do a lot worse.

    But keep some of the art. It will really make for a great conversation piece and was obviously done with care and time.

  32. I agree with Lauren. It’s not great enough to save. What was worth saving was the murals on the front of Verdugo Pet Shop on York. No one barked about those. The house mural is a great idea. This one really fell short. Should/could have been beautiful. Then there would have been a showdown over it.

    • People who do not take care of their animals/or abuse them/or let “the children” use them as playthings, get what they deserve. It’s karmic at it’s finest.

  33. Sold for $175,000 and on it’s way to being flipped. Stopped by and said hello to the guys working on it today.

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