El Sereno’s street art alley

Photo by Nathan Solis

Photo by Nathan Solis


Nuzzled against the Union Pacific tracks in El Sereno, colorfully saturated walls claimed by tagging crews line the alley behind Alhambra Avenue. The nearly one-mile stretch of street art and tagging painted on backsides of warehouses, auto repair shops and rusting metal sheds faces out to a select population of train operators and people walking the tracks.

Like a Dickens novel, two men nursing a bottle in a brown bag rest beneath a colorful wall and welcome me to their corner of the world. They motion to the writing on the walls, “This here is my art collection. Do you like it?”

In high school, kids would bomb their backpacks with paint cans and talk about tagging up the walls along the tracks. A strong paint vapor trailed them around the hallways of Woodrow Wilson High School. I never followed them, but now in 2014, I walk the industrial path, a strip of asphalt between the buildings and the train tracks, a trail littered with Taco Bell wrappers, beer bottles, condoms, spent spray cans and bent pennies.

This strip of street art that runs down the alley southwest of Warwick Avenue has no steering committee, no public input on what message the murals will give to the community. One mural illustrates the bloody Chicano history in Los Angeles with mention of Chavez Ravine and the Zoot Suit Riots, while another mural shows Speedy Gonzalez holding a pepper.

The L.A. River’s tags may be painted over, but something persistent lives next to the tracks in El Sereno. It’s a slice of public art that’s not easily accessible, but worth the stroll – just be sure to go in the day.

Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-13-13 AM

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-15-09 AM

Photo by Nathan Solis

Photo by Nathan Solis

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-11-14 AM

Photo by Nathan Solis

Photo by Nathan Solis

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-12-34 AM

Photo by Nathan Solis

Photo by Nathan Solis

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-13-49 AM

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-24-31 AM

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-24-18 AM

Photo by Nathan Solis

Photo by Nathan Solis

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-31-20 AM

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-31-021

Photo by Nathan Solis

Photo by Nathan Solis

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-35-24 AM

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-30-59 AM

Photo by Nathan Solis

Photo by Nathan Solis

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-32-11 AM

Photo by Nathan Solis

Photo by Nathan Solis

El Sereno Murals on Alhambra Avenue alley 12-27-2014 2-39-09 AM

Photo by Nathan Solis

Photo by Nathan Solis


  1. Sorry Nathan, but sleazing in the phrase “public art” doesn’t change the fact that it is common, ugly, graffiti, probably created (I use that word loosely) by teenage delinquents using stolen paint cans and high on glue or meth.

    Nathan, I’ve known true artists, and I’ve seen heat art in my 5 decades on this planet. I respect art and artists too much to categorize this crap as art. Don’t you Nathan? Nah…

    There will be countless readers who will simply swallow your conclusion that this nonsense qualifies as art, lest they be ostracized as not being “open minded.”

    Man do I wish I had back the 30 seconds of time it took to read your article.

    • Steve M.,
      You don’t think this art. I think that this is art. Many think that this is art.
      Art is subjective. Being alive for +50 years doesn’t make your definition of art more credible– irrelevant.

      I like this article, and look forward to seeing more like it.

    • Correction to auto correct: the word “heat” should have been “true”, as in “true art”.

      I await the vitriol to my post.

    • So you’d prefer to see these walls covered in gang tags instead?

      • No, I want people to simply leave other peoples’ walls alone. That includes walls owned by the state or a municipality. Mudlarks like these “artists” can blight their own property, but not mine, not my neighbor’s, not a stranger’s, and not my city’s. Why is this concept is so foreign to you folks?

        • I don’t see any of the owners of these buildings complaining. If they don’t like they could call the city and get it removed and/or they could paint anti-graffiti paint.

    • Steve, M.., I think this is great improvement to what before must have been a very ugly alley. While I find most mural art to be garish and find the content depicted to be depressing, I can appreciate the skill and ability of the artists. It’s too bad that our society values art so little that those with the inclination don’t have more opportunities to develop their skills in a more positive way.

      Loved this article, Nathan! Keep it coming.

    • If this can be classified as art and therefore protected and revered, I hereby declare my garage door (which is painted a lovely Bonsai Green) and my retaining wall (Black bean) to be respected as MY ARTISTIC EXPRESSION.

      Whether we can or can’t agree on art, we should at the VERY LEAST have respect for other people’s property. Paint ’till your heart is content… as long as it is YOUR PROPERTY!!!

  2. This, to me, seems to be depictions of things that the person doing the painting isn’t able to have, but does have the ability to picture. I really get the message that it’s the work of people who feel they don’t have what they want. To me, it’s ugly, but to them, it’s satisfying.

  3. But I really think and wish that The Eastsider would cease in their efforts to shine a light on common criminals like the kids making graffiti. The Eastside has so many talented people who deserve a spotlight. No one wants the graffiti “artists” living anywhere near them. Let’s face it.

  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_art

    what is street art? what is graffiti? was keith haring an artist, or a common criminal?

    beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and obviously some will always see this as graffiti. i see it as art.

  5. No one person has the authority to determine what is and is not Art. Having lived in El Sereno most of my life and having walked along these Murals along Valley Blvd., Union Pacific railway tracks, which extend from Lincoln Heights to El Sereno, it is obvious that local gang members respect these Murals by not tagging on them. This art, serves a purpose by decreasing graffiti that leads to violence, is underappreciate and misunderstood. This area would benefit from being better maintained by a collaboration amongst Union Pacific, City of Los Angeles, and the local adjacent businesses, so that the area does not attract criminal activity and dumping.

  6. Well said, Steven.
    Great article, Nathan.

  7. Gang tags are not art. But 99% of the graffiti depicted in these pictures are not tags – they are art. Pop art, street art, there are a lot of different monikers. But clearly art. And some of it pretty great.

  8. Here is my reply to all the art critics out there. What the f#[K have you done other than criticize? Where’s your attempt at anything?

    • Jeez dude why so angry? I don’t need to be an artist to opine on what is or isn’t art. While these taggers are talented, I don’t consider them artists. We live in a diverse society. People will disagree on things like this. I would certainly be willing to call these creations “craft” but not art. I have higher standards for use of that word. This town, especially in the Silver Lake area, is riddled with people calling themselves artists. It’s really ridiculous. Just because someone applies art supplies to a canvas or wall does not qualify it as art. It’s usually just the use of art supplies, for the most part.

  9. Real estate in El Sereno is bubbling. The new occupants will decide whether ths stays or goes . There might be more anger.

  10. The demand to live in El Sereno is increasing housing prices to peak levels. No doubt. However, lets not forget that these Murals are mainly painted on private property, often commissioned by property owners. Reason being, is that if the Murals did not exist, these buildings would be covered with gang tagging. The area they sit between separates Metro, Hazard and El Sereno. What is interesting how these Murals unite these 3 notorious rivals. They may not exist forever, and we may soon see the area change to suit the demands of the community. However, while these Murals do exist, we should appreciate them for positive attributions. There is no need for negativity. Rather we should discuss ways of improving the area and appreciate what exists.

    • If it is the case that the murals are mainly painted on private property and are often commissioned by property owners, they are not the graffiti and tagging that many describe. It’s interesting that many murals of various styles in our neighborhoods are not tagged.

  11. THanks for the article and fabulous gallery of pics, Nathan! As for the discussion, here’s my two cents: it’s art. Some of the murals are better than others, all of it has merit.

  12. I particularly like the Mural of the black man with a bone through his nose. Proof that racism comes in all flavors!

  13. There are several murals: Zoot Suit Riots, Jail, the blue and tan creatures and several others, that if on a canvas, could hang in any contemporary gallery with pride.
    I’m amazed at this ART and the talented artist’s works. And it is an improvement over the gang tags that just mark territory. I say, “Keep up the good/great art.”
    I would love to see these works in person, where I’m sure their vibrancy could be appreciated up close and personal. Thanks, Solis, for capturing those murals
    for our enjoyment.

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