Time ran out for the giant purple octopus mural Thursday morning in Walla Walla, Wash.
By 7 a.m. PT, the giant sea creature that once blanketed the storefront of Inland Octopus, a toy shop on the town’s Main Street, had been painted over by order of city officials because the mural was too large.
At 22 feet wide by 29 feet tall, the mural violated the municipal wall sign size guidelines by nearly 500 square feet. City officials had given shop owner Bob Catsiff 30 days to bring the mural into full compliance with the sign code or it would abate it on his dime, a bill slated to include accrued fines that totaled about $89,000. The city hired a crew to do the work.
The mural has been the cause of relentless legal dispute since shortly after Catsiff commissioned it without a permit on Labor Day 2010, including a petition he filed to the U.S. Supreme Court late last year in a last-ditch effort to keep it.
Catsiff continued his fight earlier this month by arguing that other signs in the city violate the code and that the city has engaged in selective enforcement against him.
"This is actually a very simple argument: the city has never taken enforcement action against any sign code violator though numerous violations have existed for years," Catsiff wrote in an open letter to the City Council and citizens of Walla Walla.
Still, city officials argued they were not contacted by Catsiff or his lawyer.
Meanwhile, Catsiff had lost every court decision to prove his mural was legitimate but won the support of thousands of Walla Walla citizens.
A Facebook page called "Save The Endangered Purple Octopus" garnered more than 5,000 likes, and users Thursday were incensed by city actions to paint over it.
"I can't believe that [city officials] allowed their petty bickering with a local business owner to cloud the big picture ... literally ... and caused them to do something like this that was so overwhelmingly unwanted by the majority," one user wrote.
"It's a sad sad day but interestingly enough [sic] the ONLY part of the front of the building that was an actual sign, remains," another user posted.
About a year ago, the state Court of Appeals in Spokane, Wash., sided with the city and rejected Catsiff's argument that the sign code infringed upon his constitutional right of free speech, the Union-Bulletin of Walla Walla reported.
Then, last February, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review that ruling, which exhausted Catsiff's appeals.
"Though I struggle to weather the mental stress and financial burden this has caused, I shall continue fighting to preserve the mural due to overwhelming community support and my deep belief that I am right," Catsiff said.