From police station to pot dispensary

New medical-marijuana dispensary in Wrigley boasts mural created by its artist neighbor

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune
(Above) Wrigley artist David Early describes the various elements of the mural he recently finished at The Station, a medical-marijuana dispensary in his neighborhood that once served as a police substation. (Above left) Close-up showing detail of mural

Who could have imagined that the Long Beach police station where folks at one time were being booked and jailed for crimes such as marijuana use would one day be a site where others would actually be purchasing pot– legally?

Such is the case for the building at 1957 Pacific Ave., where, two weeks ago, Wrigley artist David Early finished a 20-foot-by-30-foot oil-paint mural depicting the inside of a train depot, reflecting the name of the medical-marijuana dispensary– The Station.

In an interview with the Signal Tribune Tuesday at the dispensary, Early said that, when he first met with The Station’s owners six months ago, it was still under construction. Lisa Wibroe, another Wrigley artist who also coordinates the Long Beach Open Studio Tour, had put him in touch with the owners when they were in the process of connecting with local residents.

“The community really backed [the dispensary’s opening], and Lisa recommended, ‘How about a mural?’” Early said. “She lives not far from here, and so do I. We’re both local, Wrigley artists, so we wanted to focus on getting more murals from Wrigley artists, because there are so many artists living here.”

Entering the business through the back door, Early explained that the building’s interior still features the original bricks from the police substation that was there for 15 years.

He said he worked with staff to develop ideas for a mural that would somehow explore the idea of a “station.”

“So, I started with the idea of the station, going, ‘What kind of station in Long Beach? We can do a lifeguard station. We can maybe do a train station. We can do different types of stations,’” Early said. “So, [I] sort of threw that out there, and the feedback from the owner was, ‘I really want to focus on the police station, but I really want to turn it into a positive.’ So, I thought, ‘How do you turn being in jail into a positive, being incarcerated– into a positive?’ Well, a lot of [those arrested] learn they don’t want to be there again, and so all they want to do is be set free. So, from there, we went on to the jailbird, opening the cage, releasing the birds.”

He explained that, upon doing some research into the use of ‘jailbirds’ by other entities, he decided that image had already been utilized too much.

As he pondered the concept further, he was influenced by the death of his mother just two months prior. His parents had met at a dancehall at The Pike in Long Beach in 1956 after his father returned from military service.

“So, a lot of memories came back to ‘historic Long Beach,’” he said. “So, that’s why I decided let’s go with something from the ‘40s or ‘50s in Long Beach, because it really is a remarkable city, if you learn about it. People now that just sort of live in it– they have no idea of the amount of history here.”

Tossing around the three ideas of history, vintage and birds, and considering that the mural would be in the lobby with a 30-foot-high ceiling, Early decided to work off of that height. Eventually, he reached the idea of a train station.

“Because that can imply a lot of things,” he said. “Getting on a train– and you’re free– to who knows? The excitement of sitting down and waiting. And then, also, the faux windows that I painted and the prism of color coming in represent freedom. And, in my eyes, that’s exactly what this is– the end of the prohibition of marijuana, and now it is legal, and now it is the future.”

Despite his attitude about the now legal substance, Early said he didn’t want to be literal in his imagery: no marijuana leaves, no rasta colors.

He added that the mural is “unusual” in that he first hand-painted it with brushes and acrylics– no spraypaints– then went over it with oils. He painted at night for two and a half weeks, while the construction crew worked.

As for the people who are depicted in the painting– two police officers chatting with each other and a small group of women who are sitting– Early explained that the owners preferred that they be of no particular race and feature no discernible facial expression.

Pam Chotiswatdi, who has a master’s in public health and serves as the health educator for The Station, said Early’s mural depicts the dispensary’s vision by casting police officers in a different light.

“It gives them a new role,” she said. “Law-enforcement had to follow the law and enforce cannabis prohibition, and now they have a new role. In their law-enforcement, they don’t have to do that anymore. They don’t have to criminalize cannabis use, and they have a new role in this building, since it used to be a substation and now it’s medical marijuana. So, it’s like they’re watching over a new kind of era.”

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