Local

Boyle Heights gallery vandalism spurs reaction to rising gentrification tensions

Screenshot of CBS Los Angeles video that shows tagging at the Nicodim Gallery in Boyle Heights.
Screenshot of CBS Los Angeles video that shows tagging at the Nicodim Gallery in Boyle Heights.
Screenshot from CBS Los Angeles video
Screenshot of CBS Los Angeles video that shows tagging at the Nicodim Gallery in Boyle Heights.
Mihai Nicodim, owner of the Nicodim Gallery, which was vandalized about two weeks ago, says he operates a small business and pays rent to a local landlord.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Screenshot of CBS Los Angeles video that shows tagging at the Nicodim Gallery in Boyle Heights.
Nancy Meza, a Boyle Heights resident and local activist, worries that recently opened art galleries and other outside businesses will hasten the displacement of residents in Boyle Heights.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Screenshot of CBS Los Angeles video that shows tagging at the Nicodim Gallery in Boyle Heights.
The Nicodim Gallery was vandalized with a spray-painted expletive and the words "white art."
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC


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Residents in Los Angeles’ historic Boyle Heights neighborhood are stepping back to consider how anger over gentrification led to recent vandalism against art galleries and where that leaves the changing community.

Nicodim Gallery on South Anderson Street was defaced with spray paint two weeks ago with an expletive and the words "white art." LAPD officials would not confirm if they’re investigating it as a hate crime.

The defacement is widely seen in Boyle Heights as the latest protest against art galleries that community activists say are helping drive up rents in the area that ultimately displace longtime business tenants and families.

In a neighborhood steeped in immigrant history, the vandalism makes no sense to the Romanian immigrant who owns the gallery. 

Mihai Nicodim said Friday he understands concerns about gentrification. But he also thinks he should be free to own a business where he likes.   

“I came to this country about 27, 28 years ago with $25 in my pocket, and I worked very hard to build a business. After so many years, to be told to go back where you come from, this is where their message is getting lost, I think,” he said.

Local activists who have been pushing back on gentrification say they don’t condone the vandalism, but that they understand the anger and view the galleries as part of the unwanted changes roiling established neighborhoods.

“Enough is enough," said Nancy Meza, with the anti-gentrification group Defend Boyle Heights, who grew up in Boyle Heights. "You know, we have friends from Highland Park, friends from Echo Park, friends from Silver Lake who constantly remind us of how fast their neighborhoods changed."

Jessica Lopez, who has lived in Boyle Heights for nine years, having lunch with her family Friday at a café on First Street, said she saw on Facebook recently that rents in one local apartment building were going way up.

“For me, in my own opinion, I think that’s just a way of getting people to move. Because they know that Latinos can’t afford that rent right now,” she said.

Meza said activists have learned from other communities undergoing gentrification to speak up sooner rather than later, or lose ground to those who can afford the higher rents.

Fifty years ago, Boyle Heights was home to a diverse population of Jews, Latinos, Russians, Portuguese, and Japanese-Americans. Today, the community is over 90 percent Latino.

This story has been updated.