Iconic murals painted over in El Cajon Arts District

Photo by Lynn Endicott. The side wall of the newly purchased building on Rea Street boasts multiple cat murals painted by artists and community members. They were all recently painted over during renovation efforts by the building’s new owner.

The iconic alley cat murals in the El Cajon Arts District have been painted over.

One of the buildings on Rea Street which formerly housed a tobacco company, was purchased last year by Dr. Iona Fairman, along with the building which houses Sophie’s Gallery, and Fairman has been making renovations.

The long-vacant building beside Sophie’s Gallery was a blight on the otherwise active alley, save for the murrells on its back and side walls which feature cats in a variety of motifs, including a “catfish,” Oktobercats – a nod to German-American Club in El Cajon – and a large murrell called “Herding Cats” which was commissioned for the first Alley Cat Art Walk nearly a decade ago.

“People come down the alley taking photographs, especially out-of-towners,” said Lynn Endicott, who runs the Silver Creek gallery across the alley from the now white-washed building. “So to take away ten-plus murals is really disheartening.”

Fairman said the murals had to be taken down so they could repair water damage in the building, which will be turned into doctors offices.

“We didn’t have a choice,” she said. “I wish we could have kept it.”

The artwork on the walls of Sophie’s Center are in question as well, depending on whether or not the building needs any repairs, Fairman said.

But Fairman said she is open to considering a new mural.

“I’m more than happy to get right back on that theme, assuming it’s appropriate for the building,” she said. “I think the alley cat is a great theme for the whole alley. Assuming it’s not anything really out there.”

Wendy Morris, administrator of Sophie’s Gallery, said it was sad to see the murals go.

“Of course, we’re all disappointed to lose a mural that we’ve had for many years,” she said of the “Herding Cats” piece. “It was the first mural that was painted for the alley cat art festival, but we understand that the neighborhood is growing and we’re happy that the building next door was purchased and has been renovated.”

Endicott also expressed relief that the empty space was finally being taken care of.

“The paint was faded and had been on there for years so it’s progress for downtown El Cajon to not have another empty building.”

El Cajon is a growing arts district, and a thriving one at that, Endicott said, with eight galleries, a studio and a museum all neighbors to each other.

“Eight galleries and you have to walk half a block,” she said. “Not many places exist like that now.”

The alley cat wall art, which is in its own right a draw for visitors, will continue to spread around the city, according to Morris. Several new murals will be going up, courtesy of Sophie’s Gallery, before the Mother Goose Parade in November.

Both Endicott and Morris expressed hope that Fairman would participate in the alley cat theme when the time comes to repaint the outside of the building.

“I hope [Fairman] can come up with something and participate as a new person in downtown,” said Endicott.

Fairman seems ready to join in.

“We’re really excited to be in this new neighborhood,” she said. “I think it’s a really eclectic fun place and I think we’re going to have a good time.”