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How Smart Property Managers Win The Graffiti Game

by Donovan Rittenbach, Jr.

Let me tell you a quick story about how smart commercial building owners, and smart business people, protect their buildings from the plague of tagging.

I’m driving through Graffiti Alley on 880, about a mile south of the Broadway exit, where buildings butt right up against the freeway. Every inch of available wall space is covered with tags.

I round the bend to an overpass, with a 40-foot-tall support beam. Even though it stretches out above speeding traffic, it always has a tag at the top. No matter how many times Caltrans paints over it, the same tag always comes back, so they’ve finally given up.

Above: Graffiti Alley is by 23rd Ave. exit into Alameda. When Caltrans put up concrete protective barriers on the shoulder, it became easily accessible to taggers.

Below: The overpass tag is dangerous to reach, making it prime real estate for high-profile taggers who want to dominate.

Humans have been leaving their mark on walls since the dawn of consciousness. Take, for instance, the pictures of now extinct animals or the iconic red ochre handprints somebody left on a wall of the “Cave of Dreams” in Chauvet, France over 30,000 years ago.

Above: The Chauvet hands, pictured above, are one of the oldest pieces of art on the planet. 

Unfortunately, tags are ugly. They are “scrawl on a wall”. This makes them “the low man on the graffiti totem pole”.

That’s good news if you want to protect your building.


Because the streets have an unwritten Graffiti Code that gives taggers permission to throw their mark on any blank space or on top of any other tag.

Unfortunately, that means a fresh coat of paint is like sending out a big invitation to taggers. It’s only a matter of time before the wall is covered in marks again.

Above: The section of wall with art is unblemished, but the blank plywood board is layered in tags.

Above: This Chinatown wall is protected by a nice piece featuring a white rabbit, a symbol of luck and fertility. 

Fortunately, there’s a way to protect your property from the blight of tagging and win the Graffiti Game.

Case in point, I’m driving through downtown Oakland. Everywhere I look, I see gorgeous large-scale pieces of graffiti artwork on the walls. Vibrant tigers and kung fu fighters cover the walls of Chinatown. Resplendent black women and powerful black men cover the walls along Broadway.

These pieces aren’t just beautiful. They are symbols of pride and empowerment.

Above and below: These massive pieces will keep the building tag-free for years to come.

What’s going on here?

Savvy building owners know the Graffiti Code protects cool art from tagging. Great art ranks highest on “the graffiti totem pole”, so owners can either have a wall filled with scrawl or they can support the arts. That’s why they invite/pay a talented artist to paint something epic on their building facade.

It’s a win win for both artists and owners. The artists get to prominently display their art in a high-profile location, and the owner’s property is protected from the blight of tags.

The end result is the transformation of ugly neighborhoods into places of beauty.

Above: Plywood covering windows damage from the riots would have been prime for tagging. Instead, it became a canvas for a positive message.

Above: Partial dragon seen in Chinatown, where dragons are historically revered as a symbol of power.

In conclusion, people have been leaving their mark on the world since the dawn of time. They left them on the cave at Chauvet and we can be certain they’ll still be leaving them 30,000 years from now. Yeah, robots will be sent out to scrub them clean, but taggers will still find a way to do their deed, even if it’s just in Augmented Reality.

Smart commercial building owners know there is a dialog occurring on the street, and they can’t stop the conversation. Their only hope for protecting their buildings is to use the Graffiti Code to their advantage and make a bold statement that’s a source of neighborhood pride.

When they choose to abide by the unwritten code of the street, they and their community, win the Graffiti Game.

At Allied Construction Services we build a better world every day, literally.  Hopefully, this article has helped do that. If you have ANY commercial building needs at all, give us a call. We’re your guys.  925-724-2324


Now in case you want to see more fabulous graffiti from downtown Oakland, check these out.

Above: Dragons and lions are protectors in Chinese culture. These two pieces protect the side of a building from nasty tags.

Above: Plywood is usually a prime canvas for taggers. This smart building owner covered it with a beautiful art piece first.

Above: Large piece seen on Broadway.

Above: Residual tags are seen on the wall to the side of this piece. They will keep coming back over and over.

Above ane below: Signature, seen above and below, are a notch above ordinary tags, and a notch below a full-blown artwork. They are unlikely to be tagged over, but at least are more aesthetically appealing.


Above: This piece is along Broadway. It is plywood likely replaced a window broken in the riots.

Above: The cat above has a tag (The yellow P). This is rare but it usually is the beginning of the art pieces degradation by other taggers unless it is touched up soon.

Above: The octopus is a favorite delicacy. It is shown on the side of this Chinatown restaurant.

This Chinatown piece is on the side of a martial arts gym.

We hope you enjoyed this visual journey through Oakland graffiti. If you made it all the way to this point, we trust you had a great time. Thanks for checking it out.


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