One commenter on the Riverfront Times website likened the mural to something you might find "on the back of a stripper in Tampa." Others defended it as an expression of the area's "hodgepodge" nature.

But the mural found a receptive audience last month at a meeting of the Cherokee Station Business Association. Attendees voted 14-0 to support keeping El Leñador's mural intact.

"It's eye-catching," commented board member Angelo Olegna, going on to point out the building's odd pedigree. "It represents Cherokee perfectly and how strange it is. And I believe we should stand behind each other as much as possible, so I personally support the mural."

Jeff Vines of STL-Style, a St. Louis-themed apparel company, concurred. "It's so much more interesting now," he said. From the front door of his shop, Vines and his brother and business partner, Randy, can glimpse the mural.

"Before it was one of the most unsightly edifices, and now it's one of the coolest," said Jeff Vines. "We don't want to go back to the blank wall. If it's this or nothing, then definitely I support it."

And so the mural remains.

A few weeks ago Operation Brightside placed the service request on hold to whitewash El Leñador after Alejandre called to protest that the "graffiti" on his building was, in fact, art — an extremely rare argument, according to Brightside's executive director.

"We've removed graffiti from about 120,000 locations [in twenty years]," notes Mary Lou Green. "I would say you could probably count on two hands the number of times people have said, 'Don't remove the graffiti.'" And most of those challenges, she says, had to do with homeowners not wanting people on their property. It wasn't out of fondness for the markings themselves.

Alejandre has also responded to the excise division's citation by bringing his operation at El Leñador into line with Schmid's special conditions: He's put up a fence and a bright light in the parking lot. He's shut down operations on weekdays, which used to be lucrative for the bar.

But he hasn't budged on the artwork outside.

"We can take it down as a friendly neighbor," he says. "But by force, no."

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