Popular New Orleans street art in Marigny was whitewashed during citywide graffiti cleanup

In December, a work crew whitewashed a blocky antique building at the river-end of Elysian Fields Avenue.

An elegant spray-painted portrait of a New Orleans blues artist was erased, along with murals that advocated for gay rights and the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as some scattershot graffiti tagging.







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This Black Lives Matter mural was once a part of the array of graffiti murals at 2121 Chartres Street, on the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue. The murals were painted over in Dec. 2023.




But if the cleaning satisfied a portion of the public that’s weary of the rampant unauthorized painting in the Marigny, the satisfaction didn’t last long.

The long-unused building at 2121 Chartres Street is no longer snowy white. Graffiti — some artful, some not so much — quickly returned, with lettering, political advocacy, sexual suggestion and a brightly colored bunch of cartoonish carrot people now adorning the façade.







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In March 2024, the property at 2121 Chartres Street, on the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue, was again covered in graffiti.




The wall that once featured a skillful rendering of singer Meschiya Lake is now covered with big, bubbly, amateurish signature tags. 

Architect Ariana Rinderknecht, a co-owner of the property, said the original artwork was commissioned by the building’s former owner. She thinks it now looks “ten times worse” than it did before she and her partners painted it over under pressure from City Hall.

“They said, ‘we had to fix the building or they’d paint it for us,’” said Rinderknecht. “It was really a shame.”

A cleanup plan

The re-tagging of the prominent building in downtown New Orleans underscored the tricky nature of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s fight against blight.

Four months before a paint crew arrived at 2121 Chartres Street, Cantrell announced a $500,000 city-wide graffiti abatement program, to be conducted by an outside company called Safe Wash Solutions.







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A person pressure washes a mural on a building at the intersection of Chartres Street and Elysian Fields Avenue in the Marigny neighborhood in New Orleans, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. (Photo by Sophia Germer, The Times-Picayune)




And while there’s plenty of problem painting around the city, it’s not clear if the abatement can avoid undermining the city’s street art culture or offering more than a temporary cleanup.

The Cantrell administration did not respond to a request for comment. 

The ‘Trash Palace’

The city’s first overpainting of a graffiti-marked building was at 1101 St. Claude Avenue.

Rinderknecht’s building, a huge brick structure built in 1930 or thereabouts, was just a few blocks away. It was once a brewery and later a depot for trash trucks, hence its neighborhood nickname: the “Trash Palace.” A decade ago, a previous owner hoped to convert the space into a theatre, but that plan didn’t come to pass. Rinderknecht said most of the building — which the Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office values at almost $2.7 million — has stood unused for years.

Rinderknecht said her company WAAR Design Office and partners bought the 25,000-square-foot property two years ago and began the process of converting it into a 41-room boutique hotel that would serve the nearby Frenchmen Street entertainment district.







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The Orleans Parish Assesors Office website includes a photo of the 1930s brewery at 2121 Chartres Street as it was before being whitewashed in Dec. 2023




She said they plan to strip away the incongruent pebbly panels that were slapped on the building in the 1970s and open up some wide, arched entrances on the ground floor.

Finalizing historic tax credits to help fund the project and other matters delayed getting the renovation off the ground as soon as hoped, she said. In the meantime, Rinderknecht said that officials from City Hall repeatedly notified the developers that “complaints were piling up” from neighbors unhappy about the graffiti that coated the walls.







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The property at 2121 Chartres Street, on the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue, was once the site of this well-known mural titled ‘You Gay Girl,’ signed by Hugo Gyrl. For four years, the mural marked the starting spot of the annual Pride parade.










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In March 2024, the property at 2121 Chartres Street, on the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue, was again covered in graffiti.




But Rinderknecht said that repainting the building before the renovation began didn’t make sense, because taggers were certain to be drawn back to the fresh, blank canvas.

“They have to understand the law of the land,” she said, of those administering the city’s graffiti eradication. 

Rinderknecht said that though her team tried to express their view to City Hall, they couldn’t make contact.

Rinderknecht said that push came to shove when a city painting krewe showed up in December intending to overpaint the building. Rinderknecht said that, as she understood it, City Hall planned to bill them $40,000 for the graffiti remediation.

As it turned out, the city didn’t complete the whitewashing of the old brewery. Rinderknecht and her partners asked the city’s anti-graffiti crew to stand down, allowing them to employ their own contractor. Rinderknecht said that whiting out the building cost under $10,000.

Before the paint dried, a spasm of regret rippled through the community of street artists and street art fans, who were sorry to see the murals disappear. Rinderknecht included.







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Three weeks after it was painted white, taggers had already begun marking up the property at 2121 Chartres Street, on the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue




Nonetheless, it was all gone, and some of the public blamed Rinderknecht and her fellow developers.

“Everybody was upset at us,” she said.

 Within days, aerosol vandals began marking up the white walls anew.

A few, large, complex, expertly lettered tags have appeared in recent weeks. But very little of the painting on the Trash Palace could be considered an improvement.

Rinderknecht said that ground will be broken on the hotel project in the next few months.

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