It was about a year ago when cartoon-like drawings of a happy bear – sometimes waving its paw and greeting passersby with a “Hello!” or a “How do you do?” – began appearing on walls across Echo Park and Silver Lake. Silver Lake residents Amy Seidenwurm and Russell Bates were so charmed by the bears and other critters that they commissioned the artist, Phil Lumbang, to paint a mural on the approximately 30-foot long by 10-foot high wall in front of their home. Most people loved it, stopping to have their photos taken in front of the colorful scene painted last April. More than 35,000 people viewed a YouTube video Bates shot of Lumbang painting the happy forest creatures. But one neighbor objected, complaining that the mural would make their Silver Lake street “seem ghetto” and attract taggers and other street artists, Bates said. Now, under orders from the city’s Building & Safety Department, Bates and Seidenwurm have until March 1 to paint over the illegal mural. “I think the mural is on its way out,” Bates said. “We are not interested in having a big fight with the city.”
But, Bates wonders why the city can crack down on a popular mural on a lightly traveled side street while officials remain unable to force billboard companies to remove thousands of highly visible and illegal signs. “I just would like to see it more evenly handled.”
Lumbang, who lives over the hill from Bates and Seidenwurm, is not happy about this either, according to the public art blog Public Ad Campaign:
“I guess the deal is you can’t have a mural on private residential property or some bs like that. I guess it’s on the same guide lines as shop keepers maintaining a clean facade with no graffiti.”
Bates said that he and his wife initially wanted Lumbang to paint a single bear saying “hello.” But, the artist came back with a more elaborate mural painted in color and featuring several animals. “We loved it,” said Bates, a commercial director. But, after the neighbor complained, the Building & Safety Department found the mural violated the city’s restrictions on outdoor advertisements, initially giving them until July 1 to get rid of the sign. The city later indefinitely postponed enforcement as it investigated legal issues regarding its sign ordinance. Several months passed and then, last week, the Silver Lake couple were informed that the city “would continue with its enforcement” and they hand until March 1 to remove the mural.
During this time, the Lumbang mural was tagged once but the artist came to clean it up, and there had been no other problems, Bates said. Challenging the decision would require paying a $400 filing fee to schedule a hearing, but, he said, it’s not likely the city would permit a mural or sign. It’s a shame because the artist had the best of intentions, Bates said. “He just likes making people happy.”
Update: Councilman Eric Garcetti said in a comment that he has instructed his staff to look into the issue. “I will ask what the particular legal requirement is and if there is anything we can do to save the mural. I think it would be great to keep up if we can find any way to do this.”
Photo from Public Ad Campaign.com