How You Can Help Large-Scale Graffiti in Midtown Get Off the Ground

Street artist Daniel Anguilu hopes to cover the entire surface of this 4-story Midtown building with his distinctive animal-friendly murals. Anguilu — also known by his nom-de-spray, weah — began painting the former Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority building at 2850 Fannin St. in June. But it’s not exactly a stealth project: Anguilu was invited to take on what he’s calling the Public Decor Project by commercial real-estate broker Adam Brackman, whose family owns the building. And Brackman’s been providing him with mistinted no-VOC paint from New Living, the Rice Village green-home-supplies store where Brackman’s a partner.

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The vacant building was flooded by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Brackman has been marketing the property for several years, but says phone calls have come to a halt. He tells Swamplot he thinks Houston needs a lot more public art: “I was tired of [the MHMRA building] being an eyesore and a hotbed for drugs and prostitution and wanted to do something about it.” He found Anguilu through contacts at the Station Museum. He says the building’s new visibility already “has seemed to lower loitering around the project.” (A few years ago, Brackman was involved with Aerosol Warfare’s graffiti wrap on this old house at 1625 Alabama.)

“I had painted big walls before,” Anguilu tells Swamplot, “but this is a lot of wall space.” Anguilu says he doesn’t sketch his designs in advance: He creates shapes with a paint roller, then lets those shapes “dictate what I’m going to do next.” Most of the paint he’s been using comes from New Living; he adds detail with spray cans. But he’s hoping to take his work to the next level: the building’s upper floors.

Anguilu says he’s hoping to be able to afford a scissor lift to get up there and finish the project. To raise money for that — as well as more mundane supplies like tape and spray cans — he’s holding a fundraiser Wednesday night at the Nouveau Antique Art Bar across the street.

Many more pix of the project from Swamplot photographer Candace Garcia, who’s been documenting the progress:

Photos: Candace Garcia

22 Comment

  • What a great project. It seems to me that when you have a long-vacant building like this, there is often a sense of embarrassment on the part of the owners. They don’t want their relationship to the building to be widely known. They certainly don’t talk to the press. And they are understandably reluctant to continue to throw money into a building, especially after the phone calls have stopped. It’s nice to see someone with a different attitude.

    So does having Anguilu’s paint job make the building more marketable? I doubt it. But at least it won’t just be an ugly, mildewed pile of nothing.

  • Somebody send him to the eyesore at 11th and Studewood. THe building was formerly a 7/11 and then a tamale factory. Then a well known local restauranteur bought it with rumored hopes of a wine bar, but, according to rumors, forgot to notice the school behind him and has just left it to deteriorate to allegedly punish us for his lack of due diligence.

    I don’t know if any of these rumors are based in fact, but please dude, do something with your property.

  • This building would be perfect for the Angelika if they reopened in Houston. I wish Adam would lower the asking price and give them a call to make it happen (not sure what else the building would be good for anyways). I LOVE that they are at least doing this to it. The thugs that hang around it cause nothing but problems in the area.

  • I’ve documented Daniel’s work for many years now, and he is indeed one of the most talented and genuine people that I have ever met. I’m proud to call him my friend and I hope he is able to raise enough funds to continue and finish this project.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcofromhouston/tags/weah

  • I don’t get why there are so many empty buildings in the area. With such high land values (and tax rates), why don’t they sell them? It seems there are a lot of people that can afford the massive expense of sitting on a property (taxes, insurance, minimal upkeep to keep the city fines away, taxes, etc.)
    .
    I’m sure a lot of instances it’s someone asking too much for a property. But if it’s still sitting after YEARS on the market (and YEARS of expense), something should tell you that you have it priced too high.
    .
    I don’t know… I guess I’d just start freaking out if only a few months passed and an empty property of mine was just sitting there. I have had multifamily properties on the market but they’re full and brining in income while on the market so I’ve never been in a rush. But a vacant building? *shudder*

  • “A hotbed for drugs and prostitution” is an understatement. I work a block away from the building and watch drug transactions all around it all day long from my window. I can only imagine what goes down after sunset. I noticed the art on the building today and it does spruce it up a bit. I like it, but the expression “lipstick on a pig” comes to mind. (No insult to the artist or owner is intended, it’s just a really bad spot and the unoccupied building does nothing to help the situation.)

  • It will be interesting to see the non-commissioned “artists” future “contributions” to this effort, you know, the ones who prefer to paint around 2 -4 am?

    I do like the contribution by the artist and the building owner, but it’s not long for this world in its current condition.

    Such is the nature of “graffiti art”. It invites others to add “contributions” by its nature. Unfortunately, these add-ons tend to be crude, self-serving trash not in the original spirit.

    Noble effort.

  • Why is he using NO VOC paint on building exterior? Low and Zero VOC paints were developed to provide better Indoor Air Quality in homes and buildings?

  • Udanno wrote: “Such is the nature of ‘graffiti art’. It invites others to add ‘contributions’ by its nature. Unfortunately, these add-ons tend to be crude, self-serving trash not in the original spirit.”

    Is this in fact true? The building at Crawford and Rosalie is covered with large-scale graffiti murals and they seem to have lasted a long time without being defaced. Ditto the house at 1625 Alabama, the Ack mural on Montrose (at Drew?), and the one on the side of Alvagraphics on Shepherd. All of these have survived a good long while without being covered (unless I’ve missed it).

    I’m not saying it doesn’t ever happen, but from the small sample I’ve seen, a large, well-executed graffiti mural is respected by taggers.

  • “…a large, well-executed graffiti mural is respected by taggers.”
    .
    .
    I would agree except for the fact this is a vacant building. Somehow the scumbags that may not screw up a nicely painted ‘operating’ building will spray all over an empty one.
    .
    On another note: Why not turn the building into lofts? I bet the interior infrastructure would support it with (relatively) minimal changes.

  • @xnomad

    Low-VOC paint is not just for building interiors. We also use it in industrial paiting operations to keep our VOC air emissions down, which in turn helps to improve regional air quality.

  • @cody, I was told by Charles LeBlanc at the Midtown office that the building has 7 foot ceilings, so it’s not really suitable for use as offices or residences.

  • 7 foot ceilings? Sounds like it would make a great Willie Wonka Chocolate Factory. Oompah Loompahs are what – 4 feet tall on average?

  • According to Loopnet, the building is listed at a rental rate of $1,164,000 /Year. Is this correct? That seems like a huge asking price. Is that on par with rental rates for similar properties in this type of condition?

  • So, if it’s not suitable for offices (or residences), what was it used for? I mean when it was originally built? [post 14]

  • R. Boyd -
    Yes, it does in fact happen more than your admittedly small sample indicates. One quick example: (The late) Cafe Artiste, many times, while still open.

    Your mistake is in thinking “the taggers”
    are a single organized group…can be ex-con gangbangers or 16 yr. old huffers…can even be 11 yr. old honor students.

    The only commonality is criminality.
    It’s a scummy practice w/o permission.

  • Actually, I never thought of taggers as a single group. No, I see them as a bunch of individual assholes. Or occasionally a small pack of assholes. That said, they seem (based on the small sample I mentioned) to respect (i.e., not tag) quality graffiti murals to a certain extent. The mural at Cafe Artiste was 1) not a graffiti-style mural, and 2) was terrible. Not that it being terrible is any excuse for some little asshole with a spray can to deface it, but its terrible-ness might have provided motive.

  • RB-

    Good to see we agree! They are assholes.

    I also thought Cafe Artiste’s mural was unattractive, but the (original) owner said he commissioned it BECAUSE that fence was such a graffiti magnet.

    They’re just dogs lifting their legs with more visible results.

  • Thanks for all of the comments and support. I have been a big proponent of urban revitalization and public art, especially in Midtown and Downtown for many years.

    As far as the ceiling heights in the building are concerned, the first floor is about 12 feet, the second is about 8 feet and the third is about 10 feet. Each floor is a 30,000 sf floor plate. So, the second is a challenge, but not an impassable one. Open office space could work there.
    I have talked to representatives about this site for the Angelica. The ceiling heights and column spacing won’t work for them. But they are actively looking for a new location. Perhaps in the Superblock project if that ever gets off the ground?

    The real challenge to develop a project like this in today’s market is not land prices as much as obtaining the financing. Even if someone had a great concept and the building was 50% leased (and the land was close to free), they would have a hard time. Until lending loosens up, not much will come out of the ground in Midtown. Fortunately, I think lenders will start back up soon. CVS (as exciting as that retailer is) paid close to $60 a foot for a very low density building a few blocks away. I have been asking somewhere in the upper $60’s to $70’s for it over the last few years. Once you start looking at multi-story development, the land price becomes less of a burdon as well. I am very open to seller financing it with a low down payment and would look at a joint venture with a capable developer, so I don’t think that the land price is the biggest obstacle.

    The rental rate on loopnet is $12 per sf per year gross for 97,000 sf of space. Assuming that the building was in a turnkey condition, that would be on the low end of rental rates (I think the market in midtown for class B office is somewhere in the $15-$18 range – although I don’t specialize in office leasing, so I may be a few bucks off). If a tenant wanted to invest in the improvements, I would back it out of the rent, or make them a partner in the building. Again, I’m very flexible.

    The building started as the Sunnyland furniture building and was built around 1955. They added onto it as time passed.

    At New Living, we sell mostly indoor paint, and Daniel has been using that paint on the building. Although it is good to use non-toxic paint on exteriors as already mentioned. We are committed to providing healthy and sustainable design that is affordable. We sell locally made products, non-toxic paint, sustainable flooring, carpet, countertops, and custom cabinets to home owners and professionals. We also sell organic / non-toxic mattresses and bedding, non-toxic cleaning products. Stop by the next time you are in the village.
    I’d be happy to show anyone the building that had serious interest, or just wanted to check it out. Call me anytime at 281-630-2222. Or stop by the event tonight.
    Adam

  • Enjoying the beauty of the art is what it’s all about, if someone tags it it wont be the first time and I’m sure Anguilu has expirience this before. Street art doesn’t stay on the streets forever someone (sometimes the same artist) will paint over it. I can’t wait to see Anguilu’s masterpiece complete, his work is amongst the best that I have ever seen. I hope that who ever buys the building sees the effort that this artist has put into it and dosent paint over it…hope Udunno doesn’t buy that would probably be the first thing they’ll do.