Steve Lopez' column on the woes of the Antonio family and their Highland Park market Los Paisanos brings up questions: Graffiti or art? Vandalism or contracted work? Does every person who walks by possess the right to censor the painting with a phone call?
I don't have the answer to any of those questions. And you'll have to go to the column link to see a picture of the bright yellow market; this photo of graffiti from picapp was taken in 2000.
(FYI: The Antonio family, after years of removing graffiti themselves, paid an artist to cover their wall and the graffiti stopped. Then a disgruntled passer-by called City Hall to complain about the mural, and the city--in an display of counterproductive bureaucracy [I guess that's redundant]--ordered the mural's removal, so the tagging started again.)
When was the first time graffiti was mentioned by the Los Angeles Times? Seems to be May 1942, when a papal address used the word in connection with wartime diggings under the Vatican. Excavators found a circa 200 A.D. Christian altar, identified by its graffiti.
What about graffiti as we know it today? A Sept. 11, 1966 article decried the spray painting of swastikas, Iron Crosses, and other symbols "on blank walls and under bridges from South Pasadena to Venice, and San Fernando to San Pedro." Now that sounds more like graffiti.
Up until that time, it seems that spray-painting "Kilroy was here" (with the requisite big nose) was inoffensive and acceptable. So 1966 stands as the year that graffiti acquired its threatening, territorial ambiance.
So what did the 1966 article have to say about graffiti? According to UCLA researchers interviewed, "Modern wall writing...is almost exclusively the expression of the juvenile mind--no matter how old the writer may be." Clubs and gangs used symbols to mark their territory, and swastikas and Iron Crosses were chosen because they symbolized strength, and gave the tagger a temporary sense of power.