In fact, the public artwork — a mural adorning the ceiling that was designed by local artist Shinpei Takeda — has earned a nomination for an Orchid Award from the San Diego Architecture Foundation, which will announce its 2012 winners next month.
But at least one Ocean Beach resident who decided to check out the restrooms during a stroll thinks the community got more than it bargained for. Two community groups — The Ocean Beach Town Council and Ocean Beach Planning Board — have agreed that his concerns have merit and have scheduled separate public discussions.
The resident, Jeff Russell, said he was dismayed to discover the mural, inspired by a photograph of the historic Wonderland Amusement Park, is overlain with snippets of text from news accounts about events that don’t present an accurate representation of the community or its history.
During his first visit, Russell said he noticed the phrase “fatal shooting of a dog” outside the entrance to the men’s restroom.
“I thought, that’s kind of strange,” said Russell. “We’re right next to Dog Beach.”
He decided to go inside and spotted on the ceiling, “killed and the police officer involved was exonerated.”
His interest peaked and eyebrows raised, Russell decided to come back with a notepad and take a more careful look.
The text is arranged in an artistic manner and is often difficult to decipher. Some snippets form circular patterns, much of it overlaps, and some phrases appear in all caps, others all lower-case. Russell contacted the city’s Commission on Arts and Culture, but the commission’s account of the text was incomplete; it only knew of the text in the circular patterns, Russell said.
He put the snippets he could decipher through an online search engine and discovered the upper-case text excerpted the writings of authors for whom streets around here are named: Georg Ebers, James Anthony Froude and Paul Bacon.
Russell made a more curious discovery about the lower-case snippets. In every case, he said, they were excerpts from articles in the OB Rag, the local online newspaper.
None of the articles were more than four years old and, too often, centered on divisive and inappropriate themes, according to Russell.
For example, said Russell, many snippets were from an article, “6th Anniversary of death of Danny ‘the Walker’ ” — an article about the use of deadly force on a homeless man. Another article, “OB Heathens escape from exile to raise funds for summer party,” focused on a group described in the article as “artists, street performers and other free spirits.”
Russell asked, “Are the OB Heathens important to our history or maybe just friends of the artist?”
Snippets from an article, “Fear and Loathing at the Black” include “Don’t Feed the Bums,” a phrase that appeared on anti-homeless stickers on Newport Avenue two years ago and provoked much media scrutiny.
“It’s a horrible representation of Ocean Beach,” Russell said.
He added that many community leaders expected the artwork to reflect a more general representation of Ocean Beach history, and he pointed to a story in San Diego CityBeat where Takeda was quoted, “My work has to do with memory. I wanted to talk about what was here when OB was founded.”
Noting the current 125th commemoration of Ocean Beach’s founding, Russell said, “We’re celebrating 125 years of history. What kind of history is this?”
Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, said she was “surprised by the negativity” of the text when Russell visited her office to share a file of his research.
“I like to think of OB for all the good things it has. I thought (the mural) would be more representative of our entire history,” Knox said.
The many references to deadly force used by police could create a false impression of an adversarial relationship, Knox said, when in fact, “We have the best relationship with police that we’ve had in 40 years,” she said.
Takeda is the co-founder and creative director of The AjA Project, which describes itself as an entity that provides photography-based educational programming to youth affected by war and displacement. Takeda was in Asia at press time but Sandra Ainslie, AjA’s executive director, spoke of Takeda in glowing terms.
“I’ve worked with Shinpei for seven years,” she said. “I think he’s a brilliant artist and I think he’s very truthful and authentic.”
Ainslie said she wasn’t familiar with the specific concerns about the Brighton Street comfort station mural, but offered that Takeda doesn’t try to be provocative for its own sake.
“His artistic expression is always to portray the most truthful narrative and story in a way that is neither sensational nor sugar-coated,” Ainslie said.
The Ocean Beach Town Council will hold a discussion on the matter
Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Point Loma Masonic Lodge, 1711 Sunset Cliffs Blvd.
The Ocean Beach Planning Board’s discussion item takes place Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. at the Ocean Beach Recreation Center, 4726 Santa Monica Ave.
CURIOUS SNIPPETS RAISE SOME EYEBROWS
Among the snippets of text resident Jeff Russell said he discovered on the ceiling of the Brighton Street comfort station:
• “blatant killing of a known homeless man”
• “killed and the police officer involved exonerated”
• “gunned down and killed by San Diego Police officers”
• “filled with bullets”
• “fatal shooting of a dog by police officers”
• “anger expressed on Newport Avenue will translate to violence”
• “unmitigated hatred”
• “angry, jeering mob”
• “Afghan police and military”
• “Don’t Feed the Bums”