Rudy Martinez a character on A&E’s Flip This House, along with his associate, Paul Pagnone comprise the Piedmont Investment Company, the development firm that recently purchased the historic Self Help Graphics & Art Building in East Los Angeles.
The Self Help Graphics & Art building, a visual art piece of tile work by international artist Eduardo Oropeza, has been a sanctuary for over 30 years to hundreds of marginalized artists. Through Self Help Graphics’ print ateliers, use of studio spaces, premiere instruction, use of gallery walls and mutual interchange—major Los Angeles artistic voices were born. It is not by chance that an overwhelming number of artists whose work is now exhibited in the Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement and the Cheech Marin collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) have a deep allegiance to Self Help Graphics.
In many countries important historical landmarks are preserved and revered.
In most areas of Los Angeles, community members are admired for their activism in preserving their neighborhoods safe and free of elements that are not good for its residents. For example, in South Pasadena the residents resist the 710 Freeway going through their historic neighborhood and there are also rules about the metro honking its horns at intersections. In Balboa Lake (San Fernando Valley) neighbors picket a gentlemen’s club and porno store every weekend, because those types of businesses devalue their homes. In Silverlake the community is protesting a 60-unit housing project that is being erected in a small area, because there is little parking as it is. Did I mention that this 60-unit complex is one of the “projects” of Piedmont Investment Company?
Without the benefit of environmental impact or other assessment report, Piedmont Investments believes that they know what the East Los Angeles community wants: coffee shops, drug stores, and cramped living spaces, but not a cultural center and art haven. If Piedmont Investments knew anything about the East Los Angeles community and its residents, they would know that art is valued as much as life. All Piedmont Investments need do is take a look around the Self Help Graphics’ neighborhood to realize that they are standing in the nucleus of hand painted signs and murals that have spread all over the rest of the city. That is how important art is to the East Los Angeles community. If Piedmont Investments cared about community, as much as Paul Pagnone stressed to the Self Help Graphics Board of Directors that they do, they would know that Brooklyn Hardware (another community icon since the neighborhood was Jewish), will lose business without access to Self Help Graphic’s parking lot.
Self Help Graphics & Art has maintained a harmonious environment with the East Los Angeles community, sharing the building space for quinceañeras, weddings, baptisms, community fundraisers, school programming and community parking—for a minimum fee to nothing. The use of the building for affordable life cycle events and parking for stores and residents will be a great loss to the area. The terms of Self Help Graphics’ lease with the Sisters of St. Francis, Alverno was that Self Help Graphics perform their mission statement: assisting emerging Latino artists in exchange for indefinite free use of the building for said mission. The sharing relationship that Self Help Graphic’s has with the resident-neighbors was created by founder Sister Karen Boccalero and has been honored to this date.
Many are aghast that such an icon as the Self Help Graphics’ building could succumb to becoming the home of yet another Starbucks-Long’s Drugs Store-Hawaiian fast-food triptych such as the one Piedmont Investments’ recently unveiled on the corner of York and Eagle Rock Boulevards. Others note that this is a cruel world where amassing money is supreme to spirit, honesty, sincerity or respect for others’ way of life—so deal with it.
East Los Angeles has an extreme sense of community, just like any other affluent neighborhood in Los Angeles. However, the affluence in ELA is measured in the richness of culture, harmony, respect and art. In the days to come you will hear of Supervisor Gloria Molina, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Senator Gloria Romero, Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis and Councilmember Jose Huizar meeting with the Archdiocese to investigate their sale of this property and at the same time their misinformation to the community of ELA. The illegal sale of the building and disregard for the terms of the lease are worrisome to ELA civic leadership. To date the Archdiocese has been unresponsive in scheduling a meeting. At the same time, the community activists and artists of East Los Angeles are beginning actions to help their allies bring a positive conclusion to this insulting, and condescending treatment by “those that know the East Los Angeles community’s needs better”.