Know Your Street Art: Untitled 392 11th St. (Oakland)

In Yale University Press' ex-haustive study, The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti, word “bombing” is rightfully celebrated for its impressionistic styles and shapes. Good bombing is distinct and artful. Bad bombing is just that: bad bombing. Which category is the bombing that's centered around (and on) the old Hotel Travelers in downtown Oakland?

The bombers themselves would say “good.” Dion Ross, the building manager at the hotel, which is transitioning into an apartment building, says “bad.” The word “BTH” now appears in stylistic red, white, and black lettering on its outside upper floors. On the 11th Street walls that surround the building is a sea of bulbous lettering in bright colors, advertising “Virtu,” “Meih,” “Crab,” and scores of other names. By “graffiti bomb” standards, this part of Oakland is a war zone, with “BTH”the towering emblem.

“It's vandalism,” says Ross on a recent evening, standing in the building's lobby. “Art should be something that's open to the beholder and to the person who purchases it. But if this were my building, it should be my choice as to what art I want to place on it.”

Ross says the “BTH” bomber broke into the building, then probably repelled down the outside wall in what he says would have been a “dangerous” maneuver. Like other cities, Oakland has a graffiti-abatement program that targets graffiti-makers, and also involves warnings to property owners and fines that can stretch into the thousands of dollars. Ross, who is an art aficionado, admires some street art — “some of that vandalism is attractive from an art standpoint, especially when you consider the technique and colors” — but says the “BTH” bomber is defacing a building that is already artful and architecturally notable. The Hotel Travelers dates from the early 1900s, when Art Deco was inspiring a lineup of buildings in Oakland, including the Paramount Theatre. (Its Deco touches are more apparent inside the building than outside, however.)

“My old girl, as I call her, already has a façade and a face — and that face shouldn't change because it's a part of Oakland history,” says Ross. “It is blatantly incorrect to further abuse her — time has already taken care of that.”

Sometime soon, the building's new owner may have Ross supervise the removal of “BTH” and the additional tagging that's near it. For now, the script hangs in the air for everyone to see, like the wording on buildings that made it into the 2013 edition of The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti. The book's publication, and the many websites that chronicle street art around the world, ensure that “BTH” will be around as long as there are people who want to see it.

View Comments