LOS ANGELES — Dozens of graffiti artists painted over at least 27 floors of an abandoned luxury real estate project in downtown LA last week. Spanning an entire square city block, Oceanwide Plaza was supposed to be a massive mixed-use development featuring more than 500 luxury condos and a five-star hotel occupying three towers reaching up to 55 stories. Begun in 2015, the $1 billion project was put on hold in 2019 when the Chinese-backed developer Oceanwide Holdings ran out of funding, and has sat vacant ever since.
It’s not clear why exactly the artists chose this moment to use the long-deserted construction site as their canvas. Merch, one of the artists who tagged the towers, cited a graffiti blitz on another abandoned building, a 20-story healthcare facility already slated for destruction that was tagged during Art Basel Miami Beach last December, as inspiration.
“Once people realized it was able to be painted, they’re going to do an LA version,” Merch told Hyperallergic. “Miami set the tone.” He also mentioned that another artist, Aqua, hit the LA site at the end of last year, but his tag was high up and hard to see, so it garnered little attention until images of it started circulating on social media.
Whatever the reason, once artists began contributing pieces to the half-finished towers on the last weekend of January, they didn’t stop for several days, covering the buildings in bright, bold lettering that could be seen for blocks. “Once I saw more writers were hitting it, I knew it was now or never,” Aker, another artist involved, told Hyperallergic.
“Shit is a skyscraper playground,” said Hopes, who took the center spot on the top of tower 1. “Let’s all get together and paint it up. Make LA graffiti history.”
Artists contacted by Hyperallergic said they were easily able to evade the few guards patrolling, not surprising given that a security firm hired to protect the site sued the developer recently for not paying them. (Oceanwide has not yet responded to a request for comment.) After entering through holes in the chain link fence, the artists huffed up several flights of stairs, carrying buckets of paint, rollers, spray paint cans, and ladders. DR1 was one of the first to hit the building on Saturday, covering three low floors of tower 1 with his crew NCT and returning on Monday to head up to the 48th floor where he added his own tag over three of the upper windows. Several artists said that police helicopters circled the building while they painted, but saw little police presence otherwise. On social media, users posted majestic drone footage, or stunning nighttime scenes of artists perched on ledges, rapt in deep concentration or enjoying the view, as the city lights twinkle far below them.
After the first few days, police presence increased. Two people were arrested on Tuesday night, cited and released. A rather sensationalist NBC video came out on Wednesday, followed on Thursday by a statement from the Central City Association, an advocacy group for downtown businesses, that cited the “vandalism” as a “representation of the very real neglect that DTLA has gone through over the past decade.”
On Friday night, rifle-wielding police officers swarmed the site after reports of shots fired, only to find two shell casings on the second floor. No injuries were reported. Earlier that day, Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León introduced a motion to remove the graffiti off the buildings and secure the area, saying that the developers were given until February 17 to clean up the property.
The artists and their supporters, meanwhile, view the unfinished buildings, not their contributions to their facades, as the real examples of urban blight.
“With all due respect, shit’s abandoned, doing nothing. Let’s put some color on this bitch and do what we do if they ain’t gon finish the job,” said Hopes.
“This building has needed love for years,” said Aker. “If the owners aren’t doing anything about it, the streets of LA are happy to make something out of it.”