The removal of one of Lompoc’s downtown murals has sparked a dispute involving a landowner, a cannabis dispensary and the organization tasked with maintaining the city’s public art.
The large butterfly mural, titled “Monarch Magic,” that had been on display for the past 13 years on the side of a building in the 100 block of South H Street was taken down over the past week and its adjacent lot, which had become a small green space, also was cleared of all plants and debris.
The changes were directed by Daniel Hyun, who owns the lot and is in the process of trying to sell it. While Hyun defended the moves as being necessary in order to show the space to potential buyers, the transformation of the lot has not sat well with the management of Elevate Lompoc, the cannabis dispensary whose southern outer wall formerly displayed the mural, or the Lompoc Mural Society, whose volunteers reluctantly removed the large art piece.
“We’re really sad to see it go,” Kristine Bates, the general manager of Elevate Lompoc, said of the mural. “I’m not sure why [Hyun] felt the need to have it removed right now, but he wanted it removed.”
Hyun, a local dentist, said he was surprised by the outcry regarding the mural and the clearing of the lot, particularly since he said it was his own generosity and desire to help Lompoc that motivated him to allow the city to utilize the lot for free over the past two decades.
He said he felt it was “outrageously crazy” for people to paint him as the bad guy in the situation.
“Hopefully I’ve done enough for Lompoc in allowing the city to utilize that property for 20 years,” he said. “Hopefully that was OK.”
Matter of timing
Hyun said he began contacting city and mural society officials in June regarding his desire to have the lot cleared.
He said he ended up hiring workers at a personal cost of about $600 to clear out the space, which was filled with plants and old gardening tools and décor, among other items. A person who had been caring for the lot was able to reclaim some items, but others were trashed.
Elevate Lompoc, a dispensary, opened its doors for a soft opening Friday morning in the 100 block of South H Street. It became the third recreational cannabis store in Lompoc, as well as the third to open in all of Santa Barbara County.
The mural, which depicts three children playing near a wooded area as dozens of monarch butterflies surround them, became a concern because it was not painted directly onto the building that now houses the Elevate dispensary but was instead constructed on wooden slats that jut about 2 inches onto Hyun’s property.
Hyun said he was advised to have it taken down so that potential buyers of the space wouldn’t have issues with it in the future if they decided to build on the land, which allows for wall-to-wall construction.
Vicki Andersen, the president of the Lompoc Mural Society, said she would have preferred if Hyun allowed the mural to remain until the property was sold or whenever the new owners were prepared to build.
“It would have been nice if we could have left it up until there was imminent construction,” she said, noting that she now considers the space an “eyesore.”
Bates, with Elevate Lompoc, agreed. She said it was one thing to clear the lot, but that Hyun “took it to the next level” by taking down the mural.
“We like the murals and the art in Lompoc,” she said.
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Andersen, aided by social media, was able to gather a team of volunteers to help remove the mural over a four-day span that ended Saturday.
“We weren’t happy, but we did it,” she said, noting that Lompoc’s city attorney advised the mural society that it didn’t have legal standing to fight the removal.
The 12-by-48 foot art piece, which was a “Mural in a Day” project in 2006 led by master artist Colleen Goodwin with at least a dozen volunteer painters, now is in a storage facility, broken down into 18 panels.
Andersen said the mural society is exploring other locations to host the mural.
“We’ve got some ideas,” she said.
Similarly, Bates said the Elevate Lompoc management was looking into commissioning an artist to paint a mural directly onto the business's southern wall. She said the team still was looking into what processes it would need to go through to get that done, “but that is something that we’re seriously considering.”
Hyun said he has no hard feelings and is focused on selling the property so that it can hopefully help revive Old Town Lompoc.
“It’s sad to see such a great place just not really growing so much,” he said of Lompoc. “Hopefully we can find someone to develop more units and help Lompoc prosper.”
He said he was hopeful that people who are upset with the removal of the butterfly mural will consider his history before negatively judging him.
“I’ve been here treating people, my patients, in Lompoc for the past 22 years and I’ve let the city of Lompoc utilize my land for the past 20 years, so hopefully that says enough about what I’m about and what I think about Lompoc,” he said.