By Melanie Camp
Neighbors first noticed late Wednesday evening on May 25. Big, white block letters sprayed over a mural on Pacific Ave. It is a familiar tag that pops up here and there throughout Venice and while graffiti is not always a welcome sight, locals found this particular piece very upsetting.
Just days before Memorial Day the tag covered close to 100ft of the mural that honors those soldiers who were Prisoners of War or Missing in Action during the Vietnam War.
Venice Chamber of Commerce Vice President George Francisco described the vandalism as “a desecration.” The illegal graffiti incited national rage after a tip off from Yo! Venice saw the story break on television, on KCAL9 and CBS2.
Venice local Stewart Oscars told reporter Jeff Nguyen “I remember the Vietnam War and how friends went to war, and bodies came back. Somehow, it has to be taught that this is not a good idea. This is actually stupid.”
Venice based organization SPARC is in the process of assessing the full extent of the damage caused by illegal graffiti to a memorial mural in Venice.
The giant mural, painted in the early 1990s, is on Pacific Avenue, just a few blocks from Venice Beach, on a the wall of a former bus yard owned by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin says it is a “disgraceful desecration of an historic Venice mural dedicated to 2,273 POWs and troops declared Missing in Action during the Vietnam War.”
However, not all the damage has been caused by taggers. In a rush to scrub away the unwanted graffiti well-meaning volunteers may have caused the mural more harm than good by using products that not only stripped graffiti but hundreds of names that lay underneath.
The mural, which is several decades old, had no protective anti-graffiti coating, and SPARC experts had warned that removal of the vandals’ paint could destroy the mural itself.
Jon Scudder who stepped up as a mural clean-up spokesperson told news outlets and Venice locals he owned a construction business, driving a truck with 1CONSRUCT license plates and handing out a card for his company Detail Press Construction Services. However, Yo! Venice was unable to find the company online. Instead Scudder’s personal website, JonScudder.com, leads to a page for his television production company.
At the mural site division amongst the ranks rumbled in. A handful of people who felt the graffiti should not be cleaned until after an expert check began to butt heads with Scudder. Yo! Venice overheard Scudder complaining, as some locals began questioning his credentials, that he would “clean this up without Venice.”
At first glance Venice-based mural expert, UCLA Professor, and Founder and Artistic Director of SPARC said the products used to clean the mural would make it harder for her team to restore it.
One anonymous painter had re-painted the words “You Are Not Forgotten.” They said they didn’t think cleaning the graffiti was a good idea but they had wanted to do something with the words, “I wasn’t going to let it sit like that on Memorial Day. No way.”
“As we celebrate Memorial Day, Los Angeles and the nation are horrified at this despicable act of desecration, a horrible insult to those who paid the sacrifice for their nation. We are taking every step possible to identify and arrest those responsible, and to restore this historic mural that pays tribute to our POWs and MIAs,” said Councilmember Bonin.
“All of us, in some way are connected to every vet. All of us are connected to everyone out there who has given their life, or limb, or their mental state of mind…we are all responsible for taking care of them because they take care of us,” said the anonymous painter.
Now with half of the mural wiped away, the city is asking locals to dig up any original pictures they may have to help with the restoration.
“Peter Stewart, the artist who painted the mural in the early 1990s, is deceased. To properly restore the mural, we will need the public’s assistance. Anyone with photos of the mural (especially photos of the lower portion of the mural, including the names of the POWs and MIAs from that section of the mural) are asked to send them to my Venice-area field deputy Taylor Bazley at: [email protected]” says Councilmember Bonin.
The Sheriff’s Department is leading the investigation to find those responsible for the graffiti. Anyone with information about the incident or those responsible should call 888.950.7233, or Councilmember Bonin’s office at 310.575.8461.
“The City of LosAngeles offers a standing reward of $2,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people responsible for illegal graffiti,” says Councilmember Bonin whose motion to increase the reward to $10,000 was passed. With the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors stepping in the match the city’s $10,000 the reward now stands at $20,000.