A blank stretch of gray paint has replaced a colorful mural celebrating Hutchins Street Square that once decorated a wall on the corner of Church and Pine streets.

The new owners of the building painted over the “Hutchins Street Square Community Center” mural, created by the Walldogs in 2006, after leaks caused water damage that demanded immediate repairs.

When Stockton native Bryan Laber purchased the building at 11 Church St., he found that it was affected by severe water damage.

“The damage would have caused the building to collapse if we did not fix it and seal the building,” he said. “Unfortunately, to properly seal the building, we had to remove the mural.”

Because the mural was coated in a protective layer known as a graffiti coat — which preserves the paint if vandals try to paint over it — the seal would not adhere to the building. That forced Laber to power wash the wall and remove the mural completely.

“Safety is my first and foremost concern. Being the owner of the property, I am responsible for the building and making it safe,” he said.

On Saturday morning, Tony Segale noticed the murals absence and was aghast.

“I am really disappointed. There was a lot of commitment to getting these murals painted. We spent three years planning the Walldog murals,” said Segale, a local artist and owner of the Double Dip Gallery.

In May 2006, dozens of Walldogs from around the United States and Canada gathered in Lodi to paint outdoor murals in celebration of the city’s centennial. The murals have become an ongoing public arts project and are the focus of a walking tour around Downtown Lodi.

Artist Robin Wallenfang of Green Lake, Wisconsin painted “Hutchins Street Square Community Center.” The mural was inspired by the artwork of ancient Pompeii, and celebrated the many cultural influences of Hutchins Street Square on the Lodi community.

“The Walldog murals were painted over four days, but the Hutchins Street Square mural was not completed in that time so the artist came to Lodi and spent three days in 100-degree heat finishing the mural,” Segale said.

Following the completion of the murals, the Walldogs committee and business owners entered into a 10-year agreement. The Walldogs committee would keep up the art, but business owners agreed to keep the murals for at least the 10-year period.

The contract between business owners and the Walldogs expired in 2016.

“Maybe we need to revisit another agreement,” Segale said. “Preservation of the murals is better than getting rid of the art because it tells Lodi’s story. You can see the story and it attracts a lot of people to Downtown.”

Many of the murals were painted on panels, which allows for the artwork to be removed and installed safely — like the Lodi Lake mural that once hung on 17 Church St. That mural, which was not part of the Walldogs project, was removed several months ago. It is currently in storage at White Slough, and the City of Lodi is hoping another business will want to display it.

However, the Hutchins Street Square mural was one of the few painted onto the building itself, according to Segale.

Laber said the decision to remove the mural was not an easy decision, because he knew there would be public scrutiny and backlash.

“It was devastating decision we had to make, but we had to take it down to preserve the building. I know how important this mural is. It has been around for 14 years, it has its own history,” he said.

Laber stated he will commission a new mural once the building’s structural repairs are complete.

He has looked at other Walldogs pieces, and is weighing the possibility of contacting the original artist to have the mural repainted.

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