ROSEMEAD, Calif. -- When Eddie Alaei started managing the old Valley Hand Carwash on Valley Boulevard a couple of months ago, the first thing he noticed was how drab and boring the building and parking areas looked.
"It looked very tired," he said as he pointed to interior walls covered in layers of aging, chipped paint. It was (an) open invitation for some unwelcome graffiti, probably."
But then, he had a brainstorm.
Alaei has always believed that graffiti artists -- or "vandals," as police call them -- just need a proper medium to work with, a place to display their skills without fear of arrest.
He put two signs up on the wall, which measures 900 square feet and sits right next to the part of the carwash where customers disembark from their cars for interior vacuuming. The signs read: "Graffiti Artists Wanted."
Why not embrace the local art talent that he'd heard about -- and seen -- on illegally tagged sites?
Alaei insists he's not trying to encourage illegal behavior. The opposite, in fact. He wanted to give them a canvas with his blessing -- and get something else in return.
"I just wanted to give people -- as they get out of their car -- something to look at," he said.
Five young men responded to Alaei's signs. One recent weekend afternoon, he bought them one hundred cans of spray paint and a few pizzas and told them to "go nuts."
He gave them one rule: No gang references and no commercial messages.
In four hours, they had transformed Alaei's wall into an underwater-themed mural. A giant octopus dominates, along with a scantily-clad mermaid and a box of treasure -- all rendered in the unmistakeable style of serious graffiti artists in urban settings nationwide.
The difference, of course, is that there's nothing illegal about this "tagged" wall. The manager invited them to do it.
Alaei said he is "more than pleased" with the result, "based on enormous positive feedback I get from people."
He's commissioned the young artists to come back and finish the job, with a similarly-sized beige wall on the other side of the lot.