Pubdate: Fri, 14 Dec 2012
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Matthai Kuruvila
Page: C1


Vibrant Scenes of Oakland on Oaksterdam University Building Painted
Over After School Exits

A towering mural on the former Oaksterdam University building in the
heart of downtown Oakland was painted over by a new landlord this
week, shortly after the school packed up and moved. The
7,300-squarefoot, three-story mural on Broadway at 17th Street
depicted a series of defining Oakland vignettes, including a rower on
Lake Merritt, the Fox Theater, shipping cranes at the Port of Oakland
and BART. "Oaksterdam University" was written in stylized script - a
marijuana leaf in the O - referencing the mural's benefactor, the
marijuana-industry school that was once the state's capital of
cannabis culture.

But Oaksterdam moved out of the building it leased at the end of
November after the building was sold, and last weekend, the new
landlord had the mural painted over in beige paint.

Jerry Chang, the Danville real estate agent for the buyer, who lives
in Taiwan and whom Chang refused to identify, confirmed that the
landlords had painted over the mural. Chang didn't know why.

Some Oakland residents said they were sad to see it

Art symbol 'lost'

"This was just a nice representation of the Oakland that I live in,"
said Cyrus Farivar, 30, an Oakland resident who watched the painters
cover the mural on Sunday. "A symbol of local art has been lost."

Salwa Ibrahim, a former Oaksterdam executive who oversaw the design
and creation of the mural, said it cost the school $15,000 to $20,000
to install in the spring of 2011. The mural had been an icon of
downtown, particularly given its prominent location and a large
parking lot beneath it that allowed a distant viewing. The mural
remained even after a federal raid in April on the properties and
businesses associated with Oaksterdam's president, Richard Lee.

Roughly two months ago, while Oaksterdam still occupied the building,
someone sprayed red paint all over the lower portions of the mural,
Ibrahim said. Then it began to attract tags, graffiti that marks
someone's name or pseudonym. Because of the laborious and particular
way the mural was painted, fixing it was tough, said Ibrahim.

The artist, R.B. Morris III, painted each column of scenes separately.
Unlike many muralists, who use store-bought paint, Morris mixed his
own paints, Ibrahim said. No two blues are identical, she said.

"He said it would be impossible to match the paint colors," Ibrahim
said. "We'd have to start from scratch."

Money was an issue for the current and past Oaksterdam operators
interested in fixing the mural. Lee quit his various cannabis
businesses after they were raided by federal drug investigators. Those
who have taken over his enterprises, including the school, which
relocated to nearby Telegraph Avenue, don't have the resources his
empire once had.

Lee's departure and the drastically diminished Oaksterdam meant less
rent for the 27,000square-foot building, whose only tenant was
Oaksterdam. The building slipped into foreclosure, and the new owners
wanted Oaksterdam out, said Dan Akol, the previous owner who sold the

"The new owners probably wanted to dissociate themselves from the
marijuana paradigm as much as possible," Akol said. "The feds are
still cracking down. There's still a worry there."

'Expensive project'

The mural "was an expensive project to begin with, but it was
something Richard wanted to do for the community," Ibrahim said. "At
the present time, there's no funding for something like that."

She said the mural's vanishing was sad to witness because it marked
Oaksterdam's historical role.

"The history and presence got wiped out," she said.

Lee, the former Oaksterdam president, said the mural represented a
movement and a time, which goes on even if the mural is gone.

The cannabis culture it promoted thrives. Oakland has more
dispensaries and underground pot clubs than it did before the raid.
Oaksterdam University, the Oaksterdam gift shop and even the
dispensary are still in business. Washington state and Colorado have
legalized adult marijuana use.

"It was a big flag that was flying, the Oaksterdam flag," said Lee.
"But it's just a flag. The idea of Oaksterdam, a cannabis friendly
district, has not stopped."
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MAP posted-by: Matt