By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
694 N. Coast Highway has lost some of its charm.
The building’s sprawling side mural, “Charming” by well-known British street-artist Ben Eine, was painted over by construction crews renovating the apartment complex for new owner Mo Honaker last week.
“My reaction is: what a shame,” Eine said in an email from London. “I hope the powers that be are happier with a white wall rather than something people enjoyed.”
The decision has upset the Laguna Beach art community, who regarded the circus-font piece by Eine as significant to Laguna’s public art scene.
“Anger, frustration, the piece of the whole puzzle that bothers me the most is the fact that the man who owns that building and ordered it to be painted over, now owns Seven Degrees, which is a live-work art place,” said Laguna Beach blown glass artist Muffin Devlin. “Painting the wall is the opposite of supporting the art community.
The “Charming” mural was installed at 694 N. Coast Highway in 2015 by Eine without a city permit. Eine, a well-known international street artist, spent time in Laguna Beach between 2014-2015. His work can be seen in New York, London and Dubai, and most notably was commissioned by Britain’s former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010 for a work presented on a state visit to former President Barack Obama.
Laguna Beach-based Ben Rubin, who works as Eine’s agent, says “Charming” was one of the last works Eine painted in the United States before heading back to London. It was one of two murals Eine completed in Laguna Beach. The other, done at Coast Pet Supply in North Laguna, said “Wonder,” but has also since been removed.
“We always ask the legalities of it, do we need permission, and the gentleman who was working with the owner said everything was taken care of,” Rubin said. Afterwards, Eine’s team learned otherwise, he said.
As support for the “Charming” piece grew, the Arts Commission ended up retroactively issuing an approval for it, and sent their recommendation to the Design Review Board. Murals fall under painting permits, usually approved over-the-counter without the need for a Design Review Board hearing or Arts Commission review if there are no complaints from neighbors, who are noticed about the permit application. City code says applicants must submit plans for the mural and its upkeep prior to painting it.
“The Arts Commission approved it retroactively, and were told by code enforcement they would have to go to Design Review Board,” said city Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl. “In between that the property sold.”
Honaker bought the property in the summer of 2016, but waited to undertake a complete building renovation until remaining tenant leases expired. He says along with new electrical, plumbing, and interior remodeling, the apartment building’s exterior needed repair, which compromised the mural. Because the mural had not yet gone through design review, Honaker didn’t need to consult the city before painting over it.
In addition to the apartment building at 694 N. Coast Highway, Honaker also owns the Royal Hawaiian restaurant and is in the process of purchasing a shared ownership in Seven Degrees, an event venue in Laguna Canyon that often hosts art shows and exhibits.
“I value art, art in public places, businesses, I am promoting that,” Honaker said.
Artists Republic Gallery owner Torrey Cook, who exhibits work by urban artists, displayed small-scale Eine pieces in the “Pageant of the Vandals” last year in Laguna Beach. The show centered around the iconic Banksy work “Haight Street Rat”.
“In the end street art is temporary,” Cook said. “It is up to the building owner and there is not much you can do about.”
Cook’s gallery, formerly located at 1775 S. Coast Highway, has since moved to Anaheim. Though the “Charming” mural was not correctly permitted and Honaker with within his right to paint it over, she wishes Laguna would do more to embrace and celebrate urban art.
“Hopefully if enough people miss it and voice their desire for having the mural up, the city will be more amicable to having those projects happen,” said Cook, noting 17 completed murals near the gallery’s new location in Anaheim.
Rubin agrees, saying the paint-over of “Charming” reflects what he sees as a disregard for urban art in Laguna Beach, best known for its early plein-air painters. “There are a lot of people that came specifically to Laguna to see that piece because of Ben being well known in the street art world,” he said. “As an artist’s community Laguna really could do a lot more.”
Rubin said that 50 percent of Eine’s street art gets painted over. “So it is something he deals with,” Rubin said.
Honaker doesn’t intend to leave the wall blank, and says he is working with a local artist he didn’t identify to start the process of painting another mural on the space once the building’s renovations are complete.
“With the damage, the paint didn’t look good,” Honaker said. “We have to fix everything and put a brand new mural on; whether it is the same or different depends on the designer and Design Review Board. I love art and I want to have it everywhere, but it has to go through the city.”
The “Charming” cover-up carries a message for artists, too, Poeschl says. “It’s really an issue between the artist and the property owner. When artwork is installed with permission they have greater protection,” Poeschl said.