Photo by Eric Petersen.
The graffiti scrawls of “Cool ‘Disco’ Dan” and “Gangster Chronicles” have disappeared from along the Red Line, faded memories for a generation of riders. The mark of “Borf,” a more recent omnipresent oppidan vandal, is now vanishing, too.
First proclaiming in red paint “Bush Hates BORF” a half dozen years ago on a white wall facing the Metro tracks just yards south of Takoma Station, “Obama Hates BORF” in purple paint appeared soon after the 2008 presidential election. Coinciding with the start of 2012, the wall’s proprietor buffed years worth of accumulated graffiti, including Borf’s dictum.
If any Metro rides are feeling nostalgic, the owner of the uptown canvas, Vision Lighting, Inc., isn’t. “That wall doesn’t impact our business, it’s just ugly from the Metro. The parts of our building that our customers see when they drive up Vine Street, we paint that on a regular basis as quickly as the weather allows us to after they’ve tagged us,” says Kerwood Barnard, Jr., President of Vision Lighting, a manufacturer of energy-
efficient light fixtures.
Still a streaming barrage of flashes, dashes, and splashes of colors and messages, the state of the Red Line’s graffiti in 2012 is a shadow of its former self. The line has been a railroad, originally the Baltimore and Ohio, since the mid-19th century, and thus has long been an industrial corridor.
In recent years, the Metropolitan Branch Trail and development between Fort Totten and New York Avenue have brought new attention to the corridor’s aesthetic appeal. Large-scale service projects have painted murals, as part of Murals DC, within sight of the Red Line. With Rhode Island Row’s opening imminent, it is only a matter of time before the graffiti-strewn warehouses on the opposite side of Rhode Island Avenue NE are cleaned up.
Ownership of public spaces that enclose the Red Line is scattered between CSX (which owns the outer tracks used by MARC, Amtrak, and freight trains), WMATA, and mostly private businesses. The DC Department of Public Works’ jurisdiction is limited to graffiti visible from the street.
“In FY 11 we spent approximately $500,000 on graffiti abatement, which is consistent with what we have spent in the past,” said Nancee Lyons, spokesperson for DPW. “Last year, we completed 6,155 abatements on public and private space. Just to give you some perspective, we have five dedicated folks dealing with graffiti, one fewer than in the past.”
Barnard, who has owned the business for 23 years, doesn’t expect the wall’s bareness to endure. “The building is so popular that the police have done midnight surveillance.” However, the inevitability that another name will the grab the imagination of Red Line riders doesn’t interest Barnard. “It’s nothing but vandalism. They might as well come here and smash our windows. It costs us money all the time. It ruins the community. What’s the message?”