Scenes of OB we’d like not to see

by on May 30, 2009 · 44 comments

in Environment, Health, Ocean Beach

OCEAN BEACH, CA.  Not all scenes or photographs of OB are scenic or pretty or even worth viewing. Unfortunately, the artistic talents of graffiti artists and people who carve in the cliffs and the sandstone are not very appreciated by the rest of us.

Here are some not-too-pretty scenes of Ocean Beach by our blogger/ photographer Dave Gilbert. Much of this looks like gang tagging, and we don’t want this to turn into some kind of anti-gang rant calling for more police protection. That is not the purpose of our displaying these images.  Such graffiti exists in many communities and some of those neighborhoods have local citizens and residents who go out and paint over the taggings.

Again, if you have some photos of OB – pretty ones or not-so-pretty ones, and you think we should showcase them, send them to us via email :

Meanwhile, Dave Gilbert’s lens have turned up some of the dirty corners of our little seaside community. What do you think?

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Dave Gilbert May 30, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Thanks Frank,

I started out going down the stairs at the foot of Narragansett, but first asked a cop that was parked there if he knew if anyone that was a suspect. He said that he wasn’t aware of the tagging/graffiti.

Once on the cliffs I hung a left to take as many pictures as I could(about 28 in all). It seemed to get worse & worse the farther south I walked. I doubled back and got to the last stairs on the cliffs heading north. There it looked like someone had covered up a lot of it on those gray walls by where that old indoor swimming pool used to be back in the early 1900’s.

I walked under the pier where I saw more partially covered up tagging, that was even on that moblie Police trailer in the pier parking lot. Then I headed down Abbott, back towards my home where I saw the other racist graffiti.


avatar DrumnWebGuy May 31, 2009 at 10:25 am

Give these taggers a good “OB welcome” should you see them. Yaknow, show them how nice the water is out on the cliffs. :)


avatar OB Joe May 31, 2009 at 10:38 am

Dave – kudos to you, dude.
DrumWebguy – be careful. There have been reports in other neighborhoods over the years that taggers can be dangerous and injure someone trying to stop them.


avatar Mary Mann June 1, 2009 at 7:25 am

I’m actually not that opposed. Graffiti art now sells in galleries for hundreds of dollars, and the community has paid comparable amounts getting murals and planter boxes, etc to decorate OB. Something to think about. And do these images really offend or enrage you, in and of themselves? Some of them are actually sort of pretty, prettier than the rusted handrails in the photo anyway.

If interested, check out this great 1982 documentary on hip-hop culture – specifically graffiti and break dancing – it might make even you want to grab a can of spray paint.


avatar mr fresh June 1, 2009 at 8:31 am

ah! i hope that Mary’s comment will trigger a discussion here about the whole tagging thing. on the one hand, i don’t see it as a “law and order” issue. BUT i fail to see the “beauty” in most of the taggers work. looks to me more like male dogs marking their territory.
anybody else wanna chime in?


avatar jon June 1, 2009 at 9:03 am

Sorry Mary, I totally disagree in this instance. The graffiti “artists” you speak of are not displayed here. This is just straight up vandalism. I don’t see anything creative in these photos. If they were spray painting murals maybe with sea life or something similar, that might be a different story. But this crap is not art by any stretch of the imagination. I think there is a world of difference between a graffiti artist and a tagger.

By the way, Visions smoke shop on Newport Ave is the store that sells all the paint and spray cans and spray can tops for this sort of stuff to happen. I have lived here for over 10 years and never seen a graffiti problem as bad as this in OB until that store moved in and started selling the tools for tagging. I know I’ll probably catch some shit for calling them out, but I really don’t care. They should be more responsible. I don’t want our town overrun with vandalism.


avatar shizzyfinn June 1, 2009 at 9:09 am

I agree with jon – the gang-style graffiti shown in the pictures is vandalism, plain and simple.

But there are paint-sprayers out there who have real artistic talent. I’ve always thought that OB would benefit from hiring some graffiti artists to decorate local walls with some legitimate public art. The many murals and decorated electric utility boxes in the area are wonderful, and more of the same would add to the flavor of our neighborhood.

For a 2-minute video of some of the murals and utility boxes near Newport Ave, click “shizzyfinn” above to see the latest episode of OB in HD.


avatar bodysurferbob June 1, 2009 at 9:20 am

Okay – here’s my two pieces of seaweed: It is true, not all “graffiti” is vandalism. For instance, back in my youth, I spray-painted “Impeach Nixon” on several things around town. Political slogans or issues are not vandalism.

Some graffiti is pretty, the colors, the designs and styles- check out under the bridges of 163, for example.

However, “tagging” by groups (usually young men and boys) – I don’t want to call them “gangs” as they aren’t really – is kind of like what mr fresh said, male cats tagging their corners: smelly but in the grand picture, harmless.


avatar jon June 1, 2009 at 9:30 am

I will gladly help paint over some of this stuff. I heard the OBMA helps to paint over some graffiti on storefronts. Maybe we can organize a Saturday morning paint-over-party. Everyone bring a small can, paint over some of this crap and head to tower 2 for beer and mimosas to celebrate!


avatar annagrace June 1, 2009 at 9:47 am

It’s visual litter, not graffiti art. NutriSoda was responsible for corporate tagging and rightfully got thumped for their visual litter. The individual/gang tagging in the photos is no more “noble” in purpose nor more artistically executed than NutriSoda’s. Is there graffiti art- of course. This isn’t it.

So let me raise this issue- what if a cop knocked on your door and said she found your kid tagging an apartment complex and your kid admits this is true? Is your kid a budding Banksy or not?


avatar lane tobias June 1, 2009 at 10:10 am

I have been surrounded by graffiti, gangs (both loosely affiliated and harmless and organized and dangerous) and other aspects of this culture for my entire life. I think it is unfair to collectively dismiss all graffiti as vandalism, as most police officers and property owners would. Some street art is simply amazing. For example, the first “taggers” were muralists who used to risk their lives painting beautiful and colorful 60 foot murals on the sides of subway trains, abandoned buildings, and other drab locales. This is, in many ways, a form of neighborhood revitalization in depressed and run down areas.

In OB, there are definitely some buildings that could use colorful murals by some talented young person who could use a little extra money for a commissioned project. Around Newport, there are a couple great ones, particularly right around the corner on both sides of Bacon Street, that add vitality and energy to our commercial center.

Unfortunately, most of the above examples are not art, and do not revitalize or bring creative energy to those who encounter them. Sunset Cliffs is one of the last places ANYWHERE on the water that remains mostly unchanged by human development, and vandalizing the area is a slap in the face of both mother nature and those who enjoy the serenity of San Diego’s favorite place to watch the sunset.

I think it is safe to say that people are not going to just stop tagging up concrete or stone; there is something cultural there that most folks just can’t understand. I just hope that this stuff is covered up more often than it is now. Isn’t all of this happening on land that is supposed to be conserved and protected due to it being a state park or something?


avatar jon June 1, 2009 at 10:27 am

I agree with you Lane and Mary as far as not dismissing ALL graffiti as vandalism. But, as you pointed out, most of this stuff is essentialy gibberish and does not represent what we want our community to be about. I’m all for creative public works of art. And I’m all for painting over this type of stuff as fast as they can put it up.


avatar Mary Mann June 1, 2009 at 12:14 pm

I see that many poeple don’t find them attractive, and I understand that, but really, ocean murals? Don’t you think we have enough of that? I mean, we live by the ocean. We’re called ocean beach. Everything in town is covered with surfboards and other beachy paraphenalia. I get it already. Something really creative and maybe (woah) even edgy could be cool. If I caught a kid tagging I might suggest that to them, rather than the suggested method of throwing them in the ocean, or unneccessarily calling the cops


avatar lane tobias June 1, 2009 at 12:57 pm

even though the majority of the public art in this neighborhood has some kind of beachy theme, some are edgy and powerful. For example, the mural on the SW corner of Newport and Bacon is a memorial, and the newer one on the wall by the Seedless clothing company depicting Marilyn Monroe (Bacon and W PT loma) was a pleasant surprise to see being painted. thats the type of thing I would be interested in seeing more of around here.

throwing taggers off the cliffs is extreme, for sure. It would be nice if in OB, like many other communities across the country where kids and young adults have enough time on their hands to tag walls, some local artists put together a collective effort and raised funds for a public art piece. I for one would contribute something if a worthwhile venture utilizing creative talents and youthful energy was started.

Bottom line for me, though, is that the Cliffs are the last place we should see ANY kind of graffiti – be it worthwhile or not – as that is really a natural wonder that should go as untouched by humans as possible. There are hundreds of blank walls here in OB that could use some colorful art (and that does not include racist messages….obviously).


avatar jon June 1, 2009 at 1:09 pm

We live at the beach. Not New York City or east LA. Maybe that’s why there happens to be so much “beachy paraphenalia” because the people that live here love the ocean. Just a thought.

But whatever. Paint a mural of a forest, a bunch of mountain goats, cool hipster kids and their even cooler haircuts or a picture of somebody with a giant Boston Red Sox hat… ;)

I really don’t care as long as it’s not “tagging.” The electric boxes around town are a great example. They are enjoyable and look nicer than a plain green box. But you cannot seriously think that the pictures posted on this page in this article represent anything other than vandalism.


avatar jon June 1, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Yes Lane, tagging, graffiti, murals, carving of any sort have no place along the cliffs. Thank you for pointing that out.


avatar Frank Gormlie June 1, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Wow! Quite a stream goin’ on.

Let me share some experiences. Back in the 1990s I worked in City Heights for a community non-profit. annagrace was there too. Part of my job was to go out every Saturday with a handful of locals and paint over graffiti – 99% of it seemingly “gang”-related.

Here’s a few of pointers:
– if you paint over a ‘gang’s’ tag, it or some other group will soon come to that spot and tag it again. So, you have to keep up the painting over constantly – giving the strong message that you won’t allow it.
– be careful in how you paint over the graffiti – your “paint-over” may look worse than the original tag. So use gentle colors, earth tones, tans, keep in mind what you are painting on – a wall? rocks, brick, plaster, metal or ? and block out the graffiti in larger blocks, don’t simply follow the line of the original tag.
– you can get paint donated if you go to local businesses. Try the banks first.
– be careful – people have been killed in Southern Calif for this issue;
– Behind a group/ gang’s tagging is an array of socio-economic-ethnic factors, that you have to look at in order to understand gangs, groups and what it all means sociologically. Who,what are gangs? why do they tag? You don’t have to answer these questions before you paint over the graffiti however.
– This is not simply a police issue, just like dealing with gangs is not just a police issue.
– While in City Heights, and annagrace can attest to this, we helped organize a wonderful bunch of young spray-can artists, who painted this beautiful, colorful and meaningful display of their talents on a gray barren side of the road in their neighborhood. It was great to see … for a while.
– Here’s where the story takes an ironic twist. Even though this mural, for that is what it was, was spray-painted with the help of the very group that went out every Sat and painted over graffiti, some other “good citizens” complained to the City about this horrible mural. Guess what, the City sent out a squad of workers who covered the entire thing up. In the end, the spraypaint artists did another one at the same site after we had to get the Councilmember’s Office involved to allow it, but it wasn’t as good.

While on my rant… here in OB back in the late seventies, I helped organize a group of OB artists to do a public painting with the famous San Diego muralist Mario Terero. We received permission from the elderly owner of what’s now Falling Sky Pottery to do the project on his building’s south wall.

So we raised funds by having a community dance at the OB Elementary School, raised hundreds for paint, scaffolding and brushes. Back then a row of small cottages faced the wall from across the street, where the businesses are now, like Nicks at the Pier, etc. One of the tenants who lived in the cottage directly across from the wall allowed Mario to use her electricity for acouple of evenings. He projected a slide taken of the original draft drawing that he composed, based on input from us, from across the street. On scaffolding, he then traced the outlines projected on the blank wall.

It took months to complete – it was very political, it depicted John Brown, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Zapata. It stayed up for years.
Finally, the old man died. Meanwhile, the business complex had been built. The new owner, the guy’s daughter, seemed to have been pressured to take it down.And so she did, as it was sand-blasted to dust one Fall day. The only evidence left there that it existed on that site are the multi-colored paint splats and drops caused by the project that are forever staining the sidewalk.
It was a great project by locals.


avatar Dave Gilbert June 1, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Nice to see so many people’s point of view.

Jon had a good idea about getting together with a few small cans of paint and covering it over. That sounds like the right thing to do, but you guys do realize that it’s almost non-stop graffiti from Narragansett all the way down to Santa Cruz that’s covering our cliff’s sea walls.

That’s a lot of paint my friends…and maybe a lot of Mimosas too ;)


avatar annagrace June 1, 2009 at 4:52 pm

We pretty much agree that public art is desirable in our communities, and most of us think that there is a place for an edgy creative vision, as opposed to all whales all the time.

Public art comes from a different place than tagging. It is not clandestine and when well executed gives us a sense of place- our collective place.

Our public art efforts in San Diego- particularly large scale ones- are largely disappointing. Inoffensive, safe, they seem designed for little more than to make a shopping experience more pleasurable.

Both Mary and Lane point out the energy and talent in murals created by younger artists,graffiti, Hip-Hop or otherwise, who don’t get many opportunities in San Diego. (I would add that edgy&urban are not the exclusive realm of the young.) These artists find their audiences by using smaller more intimate spaces- utility boxes, schools, boutiques. And as Frank noted, even these spaces can become a flash point and end up being painted over.

That process of expression and obliteration says something about the ephemeral nature of urban landmarks, even whole neighborhoods. Our sense of place is constantly being tweaked and altered. Chicano Park is one of the few places in San Diego where 30 year old murals are still intact.

So public art gets my vote. Tagging still gets my paintbrush.


avatar OB Joe June 1, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Gormlie – Whew! that was quite a mouth full!

Dave – you’re right: a few cans does not compute. It’s a larger thing, but it’s got to start somewhere and sometime. go ahead and organize an outing, mimosas or not (I’d rather herbal remedies) but go to the OBMA first for help, then to different businesses and organizations for donations. Perhahps the blog can advertise your efforts and whatnot.

annagrace – on public art: what is public art? is it only when the mayor cuts a ribbon or can it also be clandestine like the ‘obey’ guy. make no mistake, mi amiga, good public art can be clandestine and not sanctioned by government.

actually, there are coatings you can paint over murals with that makes it easier to take off taggings.


avatar annagrace June 2, 2009 at 7:06 am

OBJoe- you raised interesting points about public art. Not to put too fine of a point on it, I would make a distinction between guerrilla art–ex. Shepard Fairey’s work– and public art. Quite right about the former being clandestine. Much of it is political in nature, some of it is pure whimsy but it is not the same as tagging ” I hate n***** cops.”

The public art that I find the most soulless is often the art behind the ribbon being cut by a high placed politician. The official seal of approval has given us countless lame pieces of art on our port district land. So your question is important- who decides what constitutes public art.

Shizzyfin identified the elements of public art- an agreed upon space, a call to artists to participate and the anticipation that the results will be yet another example of how Ocean Beach (or any other community) expresses its essential nature and relationship to a larger world.


avatar Mary June 2, 2009 at 10:33 am

Sorry about the beach mural bashing. They are nice, I just get tired of them. I agree, a mural of hipsters with cool hair would be just as annoying. Touche, my friend, you put me in my place.

People have just been carving into or tagging other people’s property since the concept of property was introduced. I don’t see it going away soon. And anyway, I just happen to like graffiti. It’s my own opinion. When I am feeling constrained by the world, my country, or my place in it, it makes me feel good to see graffiti. It’s good to know that other people are breaking those constraints, not to hurt others or themselves, but just for the sake of expression (whatever that expression means, it doesn’t have to be noble). It gives me a little more room to breathe. And yes, a lot of the time I think it’s attractive, even beautiful, like calligraphy. The term “art” is so nebulous, so hard to define, who’s to say? Not me, anyway.


avatar bodysurferbob June 2, 2009 at 11:06 am

Mary – you have a refreshing perspective.


avatar jon June 2, 2009 at 11:11 am

lol. No worries Mary. It makes sense to bring that up, and I agree on a certain level. I just wanted to point out the obvious reason why we have so much “beach paraphenalia”…we live at it. Shizzyfin’s video was really cool and did a great job of showing variety other than beach murals. For instance the way cool Charlie & the chocolate factory mural, or the Portugalia restaurant. None of them are beach themed, but cool nonetheless and fitting for our community. Also, the Red Sox hat-head-guy was a point of contention on the side of the ol’ Boll-Weevil building. So I just had to throw that in there.

Everyone seems to be on the same page regarding this issue. That’s really encouraging.

p.s. I noticed on the way out of OB today someone tagged right over the “Ocean Beach Business Development District” wall across the street from Chase bank next to the Union Bank ATM. Seems like a blatant slap in the face by some piece of shit tagger.


avatar lane tobias June 2, 2009 at 11:41 am

i agree with mary – “property” is a term we tend to overuse. for example, if you “own” a car but still make payments on it, then it is not really your “property”. I used to love seeing those white economy vans with graffiti on the side; it was like watching a moving billboard for an underground movement.

i still feel weird about seeing graffiti at sunset cliffs. I guess I look at it like this: if someone tags a man made object, particularly an overpass or a bridge, its got anarchist undertones and I think its important to recognize and support that as public art. if someone tags a natural landmark, it paints a pretty plain picture (no pun intended…) of how much respect our culture has for nature.

how much of this is art? all of it, probably. but why tag something that is already aesthetically pleasing without human interference?


avatar jon June 2, 2009 at 11:52 am

Ok Lane, I agree that tagging a natural landmark = disrespect for nature. But couldn’t you also argue that tagging someone’s storefront or the OB Business Improvement District sign displays an equal lack of respect for our neighborhood and community? Our local business women and men put a lot of effort into their business and all of the unique storefronts are OB’s own natural landmarks. I’m sure they consider it their property even if they are paying a landlord.


avatar bodysurferbob June 2, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Jon, what about tagging a giant corporate enterprise building? Does it change if it’s a ‘mom and pop’ storefront or a corporate franchise. Make it real: tagging Starbuck$ or Mama’s Cup?


avatar annagrace June 2, 2009 at 12:56 pm

How about a brief pause for the Wooster Collective?


avatar doug porter June 2, 2009 at 1:03 pm

woostercollective= very cool site.


avatar jon June 2, 2009 at 2:59 pm

bob – I don’t think it makes a difference when it comes to tagging. No matter what my feeling are about Starbucks, I still wouldn’t deface something that wasn’t mine. Just the way momma raised me I guess. Picket all you want, boycott, write slanderous articles, but defacing and vandalizing without permission is just wrong, and pretty lame. Of course that’s my own personal opinion.


avatar Frank Gormlie June 2, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Annagrace – thanx for the woostercollective site.


avatar lane tobias June 2, 2009 at 3:24 pm

the wooster collective site is going to be my new obsession.


avatar Dave Gilbert June 2, 2009 at 3:49 pm

You guys all rock!!!

That Wooster site is cool, lots of creative ideas too, thanks Annagrace!

Jon, I saw that on the corner too, someone named DABS (Dumb Ass Beach Scuz?)

Frank, great ideas and I’d wondered before about those paint “splats and drops”

I did want to say one thing about Starbucks. Even though I was against them moving in, I have a good friend that works there simply because they provide health benefits. The coffee stand they used to work at here for years, didn’t, wouldn’t or couldn’t.

Oh, and in between being Java Joes and a Boll Weevil that red building on Bacon & Santa Monica was a Sports Bar the catered to Boston fans, that’s what that dude with the “B” on his cap represented, but it’s gone now too. Now there’s a painting of a stop sign, along with a bunch of graffiti too!


avatar Wireless Mike June 2, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Where do you draw the line between public art and vandalism? Everybody sees it differently. To my eyes, the pictures in this article represent vandalism. Random tagging on public or private property would be vandalism. Defacing rocks and cliffs would be vandalism too. (I think Mother Nature is the greatest artist of all, it’s hard to improve on her work.)

On the other hand, public art adds character and charm to the community (as Annagrace pointed out with the Wooster Collective). But art is subjective, it’s hard to agree on what is art and what isn’t. Especially in a community of free thinkers like OB.


avatar Cuss Varmint June 2, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Take a side people. This “it’s all a matter of personal opinion” is BS. This is straight vandalism whether it is the defacing of Starbucks or (insert you fave OB historical landmark here). Get some balls, folks. The bottom line is… Trolls out of OB, sooner rather than later, by almost any means necessary.


avatar bodysurferbob June 2, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Cuss V – now that’s what I call a real good example of classic OB tolerance. where’s your appreciation for little people? next, hobbits can’t come in either, I suppose.


avatar lane tobias June 3, 2009 at 8:42 am

bob – soon we won’t even be allowed to have imaginary friends.


avatar jon June 3, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Dave – I do remember that bar. I think it was called the OB Grille. We were probably the only people that ever ate there. Unfortunately that’s also why it enevitably went out of business. Next up to bat in Bacon corner…Pizza Port! Hopefully they will turn it around and break the cycle of despair that is that corner building..

Varmint – Welcome! I think everyone has pretty much chosen their sides. Not everyone on this board has to be in total agreement all the time. some see art, some see a problem. I see a healthy discussion. That’s probably why this issue has (I’m guessing) one of the largest discussion threads in OB Rag history.

Lane & Bob – Thank you for standing up for the voices in my head.


avatar Dave Gilbert June 3, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I think you’re right about this thread Jon, Frank would know for sure.

The most packed I ever saw that place was when the Red Sox were in that World Series when they finally broke the curse and won it. It’s just not in a great spot in my opinion.

I got to jam at some pretty fun shows there too when it was Java Joes with acts like Gregory Page, Mary Dolan (who worked there too) and Berkeley/Hart…ahhh, good times.

I wish the new owners luck, but think that selling booze down there is about the only way to make the rent. Although maybe if they had a really bitchin’ community mural going around the building instead of it being simply red??? ;)


avatar Frank Gormlie June 3, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Definitely one of the longest threads, but I think Blondstone and Rock Paper Scissors got as many. Patty is checking right now; Dr Jefe got 65 and Blondstone/Farmers Market got 55.

Dave, Jon, definitely remember the different businesses that tried opening there. Except for the first Boll Weevil – the one that was there during the 70s, nothing has lasted at that corner very long. Not sure what it is? the long walk from Newport? no windows? wha…..


avatar lane tobias June 3, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Cmon guys, we can do it…we haven’t even started this thread yet!@Q

i would love to see a viable business on that corner. Id say I walk by that place 5 times a week at least, and it just seems like such a wasted space. with the intriguing new “Green” grey building across the way, I really hope that whatever comes in there serves the community well – and cleans up the cans bottles and trash I’m always picking up off the grass around it.


avatar doug porter June 4, 2009 at 6:33 am

not to beat a dead horse, but….sometime in the next couple of days i’ll be posting a new story about tagging in OB. i’m gonna cover this single payer demonstration today & then i’ll write up a new story on tagging. i talked to all kinds of people in the community about this…. OBRag Team News….peace out!


avatar Frank Gormlie June 4, 2009 at 7:42 am

sorry, guys, I’ve been under the weather of late so not up to my usual commenting…. but it is wonderful, that the OB Rag blog has had 3 of its 4 best days within the last seven days!


avatar bodysurferbob June 4, 2009 at 8:16 am

Hey, the water temp is rising – yeah!
you know what would be great? one of you well-paid bloggers summarizing this threat for the rest of us….


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