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Taggers leave their mark on train cars at historic La Mesa Depot

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Train cars outside the La Mesa Depot on Nebo Drive were hit by taggers late Friday or early Saturday, according to La Mesa police. Spray-painted symbols were left on the side of all three cars displayed at the museum.
(Karen Kucher / San Diego Union-Tribune )

Taggers targeted the historic La Mesa Depot Museum over the weekend, spray-painting graffiti on the right side of three rail cars displayed at the site — and leaving a mess for volunteers to clean up.

By Monday morning, supporters gathered at the museum on Nebo Drive to inspect the damage, discuss which method to use to remove the graffiti and consider whether they wanted to repaint the cars, which periodically have been hit with minor graffiti in the past.

La Mesa police say they believe the tagging was done late Friday or early Saturday, and officers estimated it caused around $800 in damage, said police Sgt. Tim Purdy. The nearby depot, which was built in 1894, was untouched.

Officers took photos of the tagging and plan to run it through a web-based graffiti-tracking program to see if it matches markings left by other vandals in nearby communities. “It is very hard to articulate what it is — it looks like some kind of gang tagging, but it is hard to read,” Purdy said.

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There were no witnesses. Officers plan to see if any local businesses had surveillance cameras that detected the damage, the sergeant said.

One museum volunteer used mineral spirits to begin cleaning the paint on Sunday, but the effort left a ghostly smear on the black finish, said Diana Hyatt, president of Pacific Southwest Railway Museum. Taggers also hit the bright orange refrigerated car, which used to transport produce, and a black engine.

This isn’t the first time the depot has been hit by vandals, although Hyatt said this was the most extensive attack she has seen.

Last year, she said someone took a hammer to the depot walls and the railroad cars, chipping paint on the locomotive’s cab. Police happened to be in the area at the time and caught the vandal “in the act,” she said.

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About 12 years ago, she said, someone broke into the depot, spray-painted the inside of the building and urinated on the floor.

Volunteers are trying to determine whether they need to repaint the train cars or pursue installing security cameras, she said.

Hyatt said she felt disgusted when she saw the latest damage, blaming “people who have no respect for other people’s property.”

The original depot was built in 1894 and operated as a working depot until 1954, when Spring Street was widened. The building was sold to Flossie Beadle of the Lakeside Women’s Club for $1 to be used as part of a planned “Western town” — and although it was moved over to Lakeside, that never came to be.

It was instead used as an antique store and museum, and later housed a worm farm and chicken coop.

The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum purchased the remains of the building in 1975 and by 1980, it was returned to its original site on the west side of the train tracks in La Mesa and restored.

Since 1982, it has operated as a museum, open free to the public on Saturday afternoons, where visitors can learn a bit of railroad history as they check out the ticket/waiting area, a telegrapher’s station and baggage room.

Kucher writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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