By Dennis McCarthy, LA Daily News
POSTED: 08/22/13, 5:06 PM PDT | UPDATED: 2 WEEKS AGO
The name Alfredo Flores used to mean something on the graffiti-covered streets and alleys of L.A.
Out of respect for the man and his message, the last generation of taggers gave his wall murals a free pass. The new generation of taggers could care less about respect. To them, history goes back about 30 minutes.
They know nothing of the old Hispanic man who walked these streets for 30 years with a paint brush and a message.
You can make something beautiful happen on the walls of your community, Flores showed them — something to make people proud, not ashamed. Here, take a look.
He would set up his stool, spread out his rainbow pallet of colors, and get to work. Within days, walls that were covered in graffiti were now covered with scenes of patriotism, religion, and tradition.
Beautiful church missions, the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, the chiseled, presidential faces on Mount Rushmore, and dozens of other historical milestones.
In the middle of the night, the last generation of taggers would return to see what he had done that day on their walls. When Flores arrived in the morning, both ends of his murals would be tagged again, but never the mural itself.
The taggers were sending their own message back. We’re not going to stop, old man, but we’re giving you a pass. Out of respect. Keep doing what you’re doing.
Every 10 years Flores would return to touch up his old murals, including a 40-foot-long one depicting international harmony between sister cities he painted in 1979 on a graffiti-covered wall outside a radiator shop.
“It’s never been tagged, and in this neighborhood that’s saying something,” a longtime employee of the shop told me for a column I wrote on the mural artist in 2002.
Alfredo Flores died in 2008 at the age of 82. His message, it seems, went with him. Now, two of his grandchildren — Erika Tachet, 33, and Elijah Flores, 34 — are trying to bring it back.
Earlier this week, they stopped by one of the California mission murals their grandfather painted on a graffiti covered wall outside a KFC franchise when they were just little kids.
“It was hit really hard,” Elijah said. “The entire wall was filled with graffiti again. The old mission was almost completely covered up.”
It’s tough to look at, especially when you remember as a child your grandfather calling you over to his desk at home to show you sketches of the next mural he was working on.
“Grandpa would bring us with him to many of the sites where he was starting a new mural,” Erika says. “His first was ‘The Learning Tree,’ in a park in east Los Angeles. He wanted to create murals that would instill pride in young people for their heritage and the rich history of this country.”
The two cousins are filming a documentary on street art in Los Angeles County, highlighting their grandfather whose name used to mean something on these streets with the last generation of taggers.
But if this generation doesn’t think twice about tagging Alfredo’s murals of historic California missions what chance does a bunch of his old Chevys have?
In June, restoration began on murals Flores painted in 1998 featuring popular car models built at the General Motors plant from 1947 to 1992 when it shut down.
The murals are under a railroad overpass at the Amtrak/Metrolink Station in Van Nuys, a stone’s throw from the old GM plant. Had he lived, Flores would have made his 10-year pilgrimage to refresh them five years ago.
Instead, they became covered in grime from 15 years of traffic driving along busy Van Nuys Boulevard under the railroad overpass.
“We knew we had to restore them before they were too far gone to save,” says Jan Brown, one of the founders of the Panorama City Neighborhood Council, which led the restoration efforts.
“That GM plant was a major part of this city’s history with all the popular cars built there and the jobs it provided our returning servicemen from World War II.”
Well known, local artist Joe Nicoletti — who did beautiful restoration work last year on the decorative ceiling of the Main Street lobby in City Hall — was hired to bring Alfredo’s GM murals back to life.
He brought in a crew from his Santa Monica-based, Chameleon Paintworks, to complete the job in nine days.
On day 10, the murals were tagged.
“It’s been a battle keeping up with the vandals,” says Rogelio Flores, who heads the city’s northeast area Graffiti Busters team. “It’s been hit four more times since then.”
Maybe if the new generation of taggers knew the story of the man who painted these murals, they’d give them a pass like their predecessors did, but it’s doubtful.
There’s no message of heritage or personal history here, unless you drove an old Corvair or Chevy Impala, like I did. This was strictly a commercial job for Alfredo.
Or was it?
“When we finished restoring the last section, one of my guys called me over to take a look at something,” Nicoletti says. “Alfredo had written his name at the bottom and next to it he had drawn a small dove about the size of a fist.”
Peace, Alfredo Flores was saying, leaving his last message behind.
Dennis McCarthy’s column appears on Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org