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Millionaires’ Murals Heat up the Locals

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

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Homeowners in Florida and California are fighting City Hall—with mixed results—over murals that are making waves in their communities.

The dust-ups pit the homeowners' rights to use their private property as a public canvas for art or protest against the rights of the community to set aesthetic standards.

Exhibit A: Cartoon Clash

Martin O’Boyle, 61, of Gulf Stream, FL, resorted to political art when city officials denied his plans to remodel his multimillion-dollar home.

Specifically, he commissioned an artist to paint murals on his home depicting the town mayor, vice mayor and town manager as cartoon characters to “knock politicians down a couple notches,” ABC News reported.

U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida via ABC News

A homeowner in Florida had politically charged murals painted on his home. The city has issued citations saying that the artwork violates zoning regulations. The case is ongoing.

One mural features a green Shrek-like character labeled “Vice Mayor” leading a donkey labeled “Mayor” with a leash. A smiling blond woman is riding the donkey. The Shrek character's thought bubble says, “I’M LEADING THIS ASS TO THE TOWN HALL” (emphasis in original).

O'Boyle has also painted a horizontal rainbow across his three-car garage, in homage to the Equality House across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church headquarters in Topeka, KS, ABC reported, citing court documents.

A variety of other murals criticizing town officials pepper O'Boyle's home.

City Reacts

On May 14, Gulf Stream officials took action against the mural-laced home and said that the paintings violated the town sign ordinance and those regulating paintings on the outside walls of homes, according to court documents.

A local television station reported that the gay-pride flag on O'Boyle's garage did not comply with the allowed colors for Spanish Mediterranean homes and that the signs and cartoons were not given “proper approval by a town board.”

O’Boyle reacted by filing a federal lawsuit, alleging that the local code was unconstitutional and violated his First Amendment rights.

“It’s very important to me to be able to do with my home that which I would like to,” he told WPTV.

The U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida denied O'Boyle's request for a preliminary injunction, ruling June 19 that he had failed to show the town's ordinance was unconstitutional.

“[T]he town does not see this as a First Amendment issue or an abridgement of one's freedom of expression or speech... ," an attorney for the city told reporters. "It is about the right of government to impose reasonable, content-neutral regulations on the location of signs and its ability, through zoning code, to regulate aesthetics.”

'This Isn't About Paint'

Since the ruling, O'Boyle told ABC that the town had sent him a letter stating that it would cease to require any more permits or approvals for signs.

Gulf Stream

Gulf Stream, FL, has a population of under 800. O'Boyle claims the city's regulations violate his First Amendment rights. 

“This isn’t about paint, and they know it,” his son and lawyer, Jonathan O’Boyle, told the news bureau.

Martin O’Boyle said he has since posted additional signs and posters outside his home targeting the same city officials.

He was scheduled to appear Tuesday (July 16) in municipal court  to settle his dispute with the city. Meanwhile, O'Boyle's federal-court suit over the constitutionality of the local code is set for Feb. 10, 2014, news outlets reported.

Exhibit B: Monster Mash

On the Left Coast, meanwhile, an eight-foot-tall monster mural outside the home of R&B singer Chris Brown, 24, has been raising a monster stink in that tony community.

Brown spray-painted four giant red, white and coral monster faces with exposed fangs on an exterior wall of his Hollywood Hills home, reports said. An image of the mural ran in the Los Angeles Times.

Neighbors complained to the city, prompting the issuance of a citation over “unpermitted and excessive signage,” news reports said.

Brown told TMZ, “The murals are a reflection of [my] aesthetic taste and a reflection of free speech and expression protected by the First Amendment of The United States Constitution.”

Brown reportedly filed an appeal to keep the artwork, but earlier this month, workers abruptly painted over the installation.

Caving In or Curb Appeal?

Some reports said Brown gave into pressure from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety after his appeal was denied and fines were threatened.

removing Chris Brown mural

Workers removed singer Chris Brown's monster mural this month. Some reports cited pressure from the city; others said Brown was fixing up his home to sell it.

But Brown's attorney, Mark Geragos, denied that. Geragos told the LA Times that the monsters came down because Brown was considering selling the property.

Los Angeles officials did not immediately respond to a request for more information.


Tagged categories: Artists; Color; Color + Design; Design; Government; Murals; Regulations

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