Arts & Entertainment

LA Councilman Garcetti wants to save Silver Lake bear mural

This mural, painted by Phillip Lumbang, for now lives outside of the Bates' Silver Lake home.
This mural, painted by Phillip Lumbang, for now lives outside of the Bates' Silver Lake home.
Marla Schevker

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Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti is trying to save the bears. Well, technically he’s trying to save a gray bear, a panda, a raccoon, a bird and a bunny — all that stand about 6-feet tall and line a gray stucco wall in a Silver Lake neighborhood.

Garcetti’s effort to save the happy woodland creatures is the culmination of a two-month fight between the neighbors of homeowners who had the mural commissioned and the city’s building and safety department that wants the mural painted over.

“I’m relatively optimistic we can save the bears,” Garcetti said. “I think the best way to do this is going to be to make sure we do everything that we have to do legally but at the end of the day if there is some way that it can stay up with some sort of acknowledgment of a penalty maybe that is the best way.”

The homeowners, Russell and Amy Bates, received a letter from the city about two months ago regarding the mural, saying if they had to paint over the mural they would. The Bates declined to comment.

Artist Philip Lumbang, who painted the mural in April 2009, accepted that his labor of love could disappear.

“The streets giveth and the streets taketh away,” Lumbang said. “It did it’s job. If anything I can always paint a new one.”

The formerly blank wall, meanwhile, has now been home for nearly a year to a group of animals sitting in a bright valley with the sun shining down, greeting passersby with a friendly hello and big smiles.

Lumbang said the homeowners found him through a video he had done showing his work.

“I had a lot of bears up in Silver Lake at the time,” Lumbang said. “They got a hold of my e-mail and they contacted me as fans saying, ‘we’re huge supporters of your artwork and we have this massive wall that we would like you to paint.’

“Without a second guess I was like ‘let’s do this.’”

Lumbang’s happy bears and other creatures with their signature “hello” and “have a nice day” can be found throughout Los Angeles.

He said he had never painted a scene that size before, which stands about 30 feet long by 10 feet wide.

A neighborhood complaint prompted the letter from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, stating that because the Bates did not have a permit and the mural was too big it was technically illegal.

Garcetti decided he wanted to help after reading about the issue on a blog post from the Eastsider L.A.

“My philosophy is that people deserve what they want or a really good explanation as to why they can’t have it,” Garcetti said.

Garcetti said he is going to try to save the mural. His efforts have helped push a deadline back on the demise of the mural from March 1 to April 1.

“Ryan, who represents the area, and one of my planning deputies, Kate, have both looked at all the legal issues around this,” Garcetti said. “We’ve talked to Amy and Russ and the last thing that they want to do is be turned into criminals. So if given the choice I think they will probably just paint it out, but we’re trying to see whether or not there can be a way to solve this and to keep their mural up. “

Garcetti said there are options to saving the mural — such as filing a formal application for $7,000 with the Department of Building and Safety. But there are no guarantees that the permit will save the mural.

“I think there may be ways of looking at it, of working with both our building and safety department and our city attorneys to see if there is some sort of exemption or some sort of way they can meet the penalty for having something that by the letter of the law isn’t supposed to be there,” Garcetti said.