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Art, commerce, thuggery collide

Murals at Fillmore and Geary were overtaken by graffiti after a new bus shelter was installed.

By Kellie Ell

A once vibrant mural on the south side of the Boom Boom Room at Fillmore and Geary is now covered in gold, hot pink and white spray paint and other graffiti. Looming above, the next-door National Dollar store has painted its name and a parade of products it sells — soda, crackers, ketchup, sugar and toilet bowl cleaner — all intermixed with graffiti.

Alexander Andreas, owner of the Boom Boom Room, says the mural depicting jazz musicians on his building went undamaged for six years. But now it is “totally tagged,” he says, and vandals have also etched graffiti into the glass walls and top of the new designer bus shelter and smashed its back wall.

Andreas blames the rise in vandalism on the recent repositioning of the 38-Geary  bus shelter. Before it was at the curb. Now it is backed up against the wall of the Boom Boom Room, providing shelter for taggers to deface property out of sight.

“It’s absurd,” he says. “The city did a disservice. The move has triggered an onslaught of graffiti hitting my mural.”

A spokesman for the Municipal Transportation Agency says the shelter was moved to provide the sidewalk access required for the disabled.

The owner of the National Dollar store, who would give his name only as Freddy, says graffiti has been “a really big problem” in the five years since he opened at 1633 Fillmore. He says vandals have repeatedly climbed on the roof of the Boom Boom Room to tag his wall, so he had it partially painted with different products he sells.

“Murals are beautiful works of art, and people appreciate that,” he says.

But art is in the eye of the beholder, and some say his attempt to create a mural may actually be attracting graffiti.

“It looks like a lot of noise at that corner,” Andreas says of what he calls the dollar store’s “cheap-o job” of depicting the commercial products it sells. “The mural looks so tacky. I don’t think they care about the beautification of the Fillmore.”

Noisy or not, apparently it’s legal. According to the city’s billboard ordinance, general advertising of commercial products is allowed on billboards — or murals — on a store if the items are sold on the premises, according to John Purvis of the San Francisco Planning Department.

Above the Boom Boom Room's mural is a parade of products sold at the dollar store.

But graffiti, however artful, is not legal.

Andreas says he recently received a letter from the city directing him to clean up the side of his building or risk a fine. According to a 2004 graffiti removal measure, property owners and landlords are required to clean up graffiti within 30 days or face a penalty of up to $500. Those charged must remedy the problem or pay the city to do it.

The dollar store owner says he has repeatedly repainted the south wall of his building, only to have it “graffitied again and again and again” by people climbing onto the roof of the Boom Boom Room.

“I clean it up and two weeks later I have to climb up there again,” he says. “My job is to clean it up or I get fined by the city.”

Andreas says he has tried to collaborate with his neighbor on a more attractive mural that would cover both walls, to no avail.

The owner of the dollar store says he is working with Melonie Green of Infin8 Sync, a production company and art space in the Fillmore, to find the right artist to paint a bigger mural.

Green says something as simple as lettering saying “The Fillmore” could be enough to deter vandalism — and promote the neighborhood as well. Some murals created as a way to deter graffiti have worked, she says, but others have not.
Green says some taggers don’t understand the unwritten rules that say street artists shouldn’t touch murals.

Law enforcement officials are also equivocal. Officer Martin Ferreira, of the police department’s graffiti abatement program, says he has noticed a decrease in vandalism on walls with murals. He admits, however, that it’s hit and miss. “No matter how beautiful a piece of artwork may appear, if it’s unwanted, it can cause people a lot of stress,” he says. Graffiti is most effectively deterred, he says, by proper lighting, surveillance cameras and foot traffic.

One success story — at least so far — is nearby at Les Croissants Cafe, located behind the Boom Boom Room at 1840 Geary. Owner Tommy Ly says his eatery has had no tagging in the months since he hired a well-known local graffiti artist to paint a mural on the cafe.

A mural by a graffiti artist at Les Croissants Cafe has not been vandalized.