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Why did LA’s graffiti artists target these downtown luxury apartments?

In the heart of Los Angeles stands three skyscrapers once destined to house luxury condominiums, a five-star hotel, a shopping mall, and more. Now, it’s completely abandoned and covered in graffiti. What happened?

Since the year 2019, a trio of massive skyscrapers in downtown Los Angeles have been left completely unfinished and abandoned.

Named the Oceanwide Plaza, the three buildings were part of an ambitious, multi-billion dollar project to offer luxury condos, a hotel, a shopping mall, and a two-acre rooftop green space (complete with a pool and running track) in the bustling heart of California’s largest city.

That is until the developers defaulted on a loan and ran out of money, leaving the project incomplete.

After five idle years, LA’s graffiti artists have recently been breaking into the building and spraying artwork on the building’s unfinished terraces, creating a colourful stack of murals that span across each of their 40 floors.

Of even greater concern to officials are base jumpers who have gone viral online after using the building as a launchpad. Another video has shown a person paragliding from the upper floors of the towers.

Though Los Angeles City Council has attempted to get in touch with the project’s China-based developer – Oceanwide Holdings – they’ve had little success.

In light of all the illegal activity from locals, the council has passed a motion to have the buildings cleaned and secured.

The response from the community

Some Angelenos welcome the addition of the spray-painted art – illegal or not.

They believe the artwork is symbolic of citizens seeking to reclaim their city from powerful foreign investors who continue to urbanise an already-expensive area without any regard for driving up costs locally.

The People’s City Council of Los Angeles collective labelled the building-turned-mural ‘a perfect depiction’ of the current state of the city.

The towers’ graffiti artists have remarked that the budget for the project ‘could have done so much’ for Los Angeles but created further disparity amongst those already struggling.

They say that the painted tags now displayed on the buildings are local artists’ attempts to say, ‘We’re still here.’

On the flip side, others have expressed concerns that the towers, located next to the famous Arena where the annual Grammy Awards were hosted, are tarnishing the reputation of an upscale neighbourhood after the addition of the graffiti.

Of course, most of these opinions are held by those who still believe graffiti tags and art are linked to street gangs and other criminal activity, despite this not always being the case anymore.

Still, at least eighteen arrests for trespassing and vandalism have been made by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in the last month.


What happens next?

With no response from the building’s developers, the LAPD has announced a $1.1 million budget to secure the property.

It has deployed officers on-site to guard the location for 24 hours a day and will begin removing all scaffolding around the building. Ramps that enabled access to the construction site have also been removed to prevent anyone from falling from the building accidentally.

Officials have also stated that the budget includes graffiti removal, stating that graffiti ‘isn’t art, it’s a crime.’

Still, some might argue it is more of a crime to approve, commit to, and abandon a large-scale luxury housing project in a city where thousands of people are homeless in the first place.