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Signage Debate Snags a New Victim: Window Coverings on Empty Storefronts

By Ed Fuentes and Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, March 02, 2009, at 08:55AM
AA_11 Ed Fuentes

With all the debate over illegal billboards and supergraphics around Los Angeles, one might think that the storefront windows of the Eastern Columbia building would be the least of the City's worries. Since the building's reopening as condos, the windows have been covered by large graphics designed to block off view of the empty storefronts inside.

Yet according to the City's Department of Building and Safety, the graphics are illegal signage and must now come down. The move has angered those who view the graphics as an eye-catching alternative to the papered-over windows typical of construction or empty spaces.

With its shiny turquoise exterior flecked with gold, the Eastern Columbia building is one of Downtown's most recognizable landmarks. The 1930 structure was converted to condos in 2006, but the building's storefront retail has yet to arrive. Developer Kor installed the graphics to hide the sizable empty space on the ground floor. The signs highlight the building's architectural detail with models standing in as residents, while showing off Downtown landmarks.

In an email last week, Bill Cooper, Chair of the Eastern Columbia's Community Liaison Committee, scolded the City for demanding that the large "murals" be taken down, while added photos of the "visual blight" of smaller banners up and down Broadway that go unchecked. "Apparently it is okay for our neighbors buildings to look like crap, but god forbid we have murals in our windows that don't comply," he wrote.

Whether the works are murals or advertising doesn't particularly matter to city codes, which govern both as signage. Even though the signage clearly serves a commercial purpose for the immediate property and therefore isn't exactly a fine art mural, there's little argument that the pieces add to the building's aesthetic, enhancing one of Downtown's most eye-catching structures.

A few blocks away, a similar vinyl graphic covers the windows of the soon-to-open D-Town Burger Bar. Soon after the graphic went up, Eric Shomof of building owner Pacific Investments told blogdowntown that he saw the sign as a way to create some excitement about the space while it was under construction. While D-Town isn't known to have received a similar Order to Comply, it seems likely that it or any other temporary window covering would fall under the same rules.

Cooper made a presentation on the situation at last Wednesday's DLANC Planning committee meeting. The next day, he told blogdowntown that Councilman Jose Huizar's office was stepping in to try and keep the signs up.

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