Group Protests Graffiti at Furniture Warehouse : Vandalism: Activists say Levitz encouraged tagging in an area of Glendale by allowing its walls to be used for spray-painted murals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Graffiti foes dumped dozens of empty spray-paint cans in front of a Glendale furniture warehouse Friday, contending that the establishment has encouraged a vandalism spree by allowing spray-can artists to paint on its walls.

About 50 members of Valley Organized in Community Efforts, protesting outside the Levitz Furniture warehouse that abuts the Los Angeles River, said the company has aggravated the neighborhood's graffiti problems.

Levitz, which had been plagued by graffiti, allowed some self-described graffiti artists to spray-paint murals on the outer walls about four months ago, store officials said. They hoped that taggers--gang members and others who scrawl words with spray-paint or a marker--would not deface the paintings.

But gang members and taggers have sprayed slurs and slogans on top of the murals and have also marred the walls of nearby businesses, according to VOICE members and neighboring merchants.

"Levitz started this as an art contest, but they didn't control it," VOICE spokeswoman Martha Page said. "It's not just art. It's not just an innocent creative endeavor."

"This is an invitation to gangs and drug dealers," VOICE member Barbara Mark-Dreyfuss said. "It turns it into a crippled, sick community."

VOICE, which operates an anti-graffiti campaign, includes members from 19 San Fernando Valley religious groups and claims to represent more than 30,000 families. In a written statement, the group charged that Levitz is "an enemy of responsible business and contributes to the destabilization of the local area."

Levitz employees told the protesters that the store was not at fault for the rash of graffiti.

"In no way was Levitz trying to do something to harm the community," said Bill O'Malley, the company's group operations manager.

Regarding the protest, O'Malley said: "Our building is in the process of being repainted now. It will be accomplished within the next two weeks. We don't wish to comment further on this subject."

The owners of two graffiti-stained businesses nearby blame Levitz for their own graffiti problems.

"They started at Levitz and went to the next building and the next building," said Angel Ramorino, co-owner of Furniture Town.

Ramorino said he has had to repaint the exterior of his store several times in recent months because of the spreading graffiti.

"There was hardly anything on our wall before Levitz started," said Larry Tackett, president of Trade Rotary Corp., a printing firm. "It just keeps getting worse."

He added: "They'd always do it on the weekend. Somebody would paint something, then somebody else would paint something on top of that. I didn't mind it at first. It is just out of hand now."

Members of VOICE demanded that a top Levitz official meet with the group and join a citywide crackdown on graffiti, but the company had no immediate response.

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