Dunn-Edwards Corp., an old-line Southern California paint manufacturer, suffered heavy damage during the riots. But the losses opened executives' eyes.
Since then, the company has done what youth advocates say needs to happen across Los Angeles: Dunn-Edwards sought out a group of unemployed men, put them through training in the ABCs of painting and arranged for all of them to get jobs.
On Thursday night, amid much fanfare, the first class of 27 trainees received honorary painter hats and coveralls, heard encouraging words from politicians and stepped out into the world of airbrushes, wallpaper and caulk.
"Anybody can pick up a brush and scrape it on the wall," said Lamarque Williams, 33, who was unemployed before he entered the program. "But there's a lot to painting. I learned about the texture of paint, the tools to use and how to finish a job. I got an opportunity that not many people in South-Central have."
When violence tore through the city April 29, the Dunn-Edwards paint store at 2001 S. Hoover St. was one of the targets. A huge safe was stolen and looters set the storeroom on fire, causing $132,000 in damage.
During the post-riot soul-searching, Dunn-Edwards regional sales manager Nat Sullivan huddled with other company officials and pondered what could be done. Instead of donating money or venturing into areas the company did not know well, Sullivan and his colleagues stuck with something Dunn-Edwards has been specializing in since the 1920s--paint.
What developed was a six-week seminar designed to create professional painters out of young people who did not know primer from putty.
Trainees for the painting classes were rounded up by pastors and gang workers. Independent painting contractors pledged jobs paying at least $10 an hour. Dunn-Edwards employees became instructors. Past lives, crimes and gang affiliations were left at the door.
"They didn't ask about what you were doing before," said Larrence Crawford, 24. "You might have been to jail or had a messed-up child life. They didn't care. They gave you a second chance."
Donald Brown, 27, a high school dropout, was released from jail shortly before he signed up to become a painter. He wears an eye patch to cover a bullet wound he suffered in a drive-by shooting last year.
"I feel like this is the first thing I've accomplished in life that's positive," he said.
Youth workers say the Dunn-Edwards program is the type of job training that is needed to turn around riot-torn neighborhoods.
"It seems everybody is donating money to South-Central but I don't know where that money is going," said Gladys Coleman, a jobs counselor for Community Youth Gang Services who referred many of the young men to the program. "This program has taught these boys a trade for life."
Sullivan, who led the instruction classes, said he now knows that many young men are ready to leave their lives on the streets behind. He is gearing up for a second round of painting classes in January.