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Arleta Activist Battles Graffiti One Stroke at a Time

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Harry Williams is a man familiar with the business end of paintbrushes, but these days he’s spending a lot of time painting over the works of other “artists.”

He’s turned into a graffiti buster and community activist par excellence.

The 62-year-old Arleta resident studied art at Xavier University in New Orleans and advertising art at Trade Tech in Los Angeles.

For years, he ran a sign business, but his first love was always the oil paintings he executed in his garage, which he turned into a studio.

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“I mostly paint portraits of family members and friends, although I was responsible for a mural depicting black history in Victoria Park in Carson,” says Williams.

Williams, born in Fort Worth, Tex., was introduced to Fannie, his wife of almost 40 years, by his sister. The two women attended Fisk University in Nashville.

Fannie Williams has worked most of her professional life as a librarian in the Los Angeles City Library system.

The couple first settled in Hawthorne but moved to Arleta soon after to accommodate their growing family.

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“We never had children, but we’ve always had three or four dogs that needed running room,” says Williams.

In addition, there are the 1941 Pontiac convertible, 1959 Nash Metropolitan, 1965 Buick Riviera and 1964 Chevrolet van that he keeps in the yard.

“Once I buy a car, I never want to sell it,” says Williams, who adds that he planted a hedgerow of oleander around the front yard so “it wouldn’t look like a used-car lot.”

Since retiring, he has devoted much of his time to community service. He’s a community liaison to City Councilman Richard Alarcon and the Los Angeles Police Department.

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Once a month, he presides over the Arleta Community Assn., which meets at Beachy Avenue School to discuss issues of concern in the area roughly bordered by Van Nuys Boulevard, Terra Bella Avenue, Arleta Street and Woodland Avenue.

“Of the 450 families in our area, about 250 pay the $5 yearly dues to belong,” says Williams. The money is used for flyers announcing meetings and providing general information about the area.

He also organizes the monthly graffiti paint-out, which attracts a couple of dozen volunteers.

“We get information as to where we need to paint from the police and our city councilman’s office, and go out and do the work,” he says.

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The paint is donated by local businesses. Other supplies are underwritten by city funds, according to Williams.

Asked why he needs to act as a liaison to the Police Department, Williams says these days many residents are afraid to contact officials for fear of gang reprisals so he does it for them.

“No need to let little gangbangers take over the community,” he says.

Williams remembers past years when Arleta was a community rich in its variety of languages and ethnicity, a time when neighbors helped one another and everyone seemed to get along.

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He says the area, like most of Los Angeles, is going through a bad patch, but figures if people pull together and don’t give up on their neighborhoods, it will be that way again.

Speaking of Paint, It’s Also Useful in the Language of Love

Valerie Sharpe of Van Nuys is a sign company owner who was working late recently in Simi Valley when she got a call from Dave Steinfeld in Canoga Park.

Steinfeld said he wanted her to come to Leslie’s Luggage Repair on Topanga Boulevard to look at the sign over the store. Something was different about it, he said.

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It had been a long night, but she said she would because Dave is a nice guy whom she’s been dating for almost two years.

When she got there she looked up and for a few minutes was dumbfounded.

In addition to the usual sign touting Leslie’s Luggage--which has been in the Steinfeld family for three generations--there was a second sign above it that said, “Valerie, will you marry me?”

She turned around to look at Steinfeld, who was waiting expectantly for an answer. Her response was a kiss and a hug, which he took to mean she liked the idea.

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Two days later, when Steinfeld arrived at the shop from his Santa Clarita home, he looked up at the sign and started laughing.

On the other side of his proposal was a new sign that said, “Yes, yes, Dave. I love you, Valerie.”

Turnabout is fair play, after all.

The couple is planning to marry June 18 in a ceremony at the Calabasas. The honeymoon will see them lounging on the white sands of some Hawaiian beach.

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In the meanwhile, they are planning to rent out her home in Van Nuys and his in Santa Clarita and settle in the north Valley, possibly in Porter Ranch.

One of the unexpected benefits of this unusual proposal, according to Steinfeld, is that business has picked up smartly from people who saw the sign and decided to patronize the luggage repair business.

Emerson was right, as usual.

People love a lover.

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Overheard:

“Yes, he’s a policeman, but not a regular, you know, policeman. Instead of drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, he drinks cappuccino, and with biscotti .”

--Woman in Encino describing her new boyfriend to a friend on the telephone.


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