Reinaldo Lopez is “very passionate about his razor wire,” says his wife, Patricia Ghiglino.
The wire runs in a continuous spiral atop the barricade surrounding Lopez’s home at New Jersey Avenue and P Street NW. Countless razor blades, set just inches apart along the coils, glint in the Monday-morning sun. The security measure doesn’t seem designed to make anyone house-proud. But Lopez, whose main residence is in Shady Side, Md., isn’t interested in putting up a pleasant façade. His historic brick row house in Shaw, a second home, looks like a primitive penitentiary.
A 7-foot-high wooden wall, painted a drab off-white, wraps around two of the three exposed sides of Lopez’s home. Hack graffiti artists have used it as a canvas, scrawling initials and something indecipherable about the police. Curious passers-by on the sidewalk can get a peek at Lopez’s house only through the narrow slits at the top of the wall, where some might expect to see inmates staring back at them.
Lopez isn’t the only one passionate about his fortification hobby. Following a decadelong series of homeowner violations, Lopez and Ghiglino received a call on April 15 from someone at the D.C. Department of Transportation, acting in its jurisdiction over public space, who told them their use of razor wire on city property was illegal. The wall also went far beyond the designated 42 inches, the couple was told, so the city would send them a notice giving them 72 hours to reduce it.
The wall is a practical security measure, Lopez says; he counts seven robberies since he and Ghiglino purchased the property and started renovating it in 1991. But it’s evolved into an artistic statement. Lopez, an artist and sculptor, says he’s embellished its unsightliness to reflect crime and government incompetence in the District.
“I try to show how ugly the crime looks,” says 60-year-old Lopez, who emigrated from Spain 20 years ago to work on a sculpture in the Patriot Center at George Mason University. “Aesthetics are a very good tool to denounce things.”
The wall had modest beginnings. In 1992, after a rash of thefts at the construction site, Lopez and Ghiglino put up a standard chain-link fence around their property. It hardly deterred pilferers. Supplies such as plywood and expensive saws continued to disappear throughout the early ’90s until somebody finally made off with the fence itself. Lopez says he found it installed in a neighbor’s yard, his company sign still attached.
So about four years ago, Lopez decided to upgrade. With the dreariness of Virginia’s Lorton Prison in mind, he barricaded his property line with the wood, added razor wire to the wall, and backed it up with a separate chain-link fence, also outfitted with razors, hugging the building.
Lopez says he came to embrace all the wall’s ugliness. “I think it’s offensive,” he says. “But [it tells] a story of harassment.” Lopez says he was dismayed when a neighbor blotted out the graffiti with white paint. On the house itself, Lopez installed heavy steel doors and affixed metal cages to each of the windows, many of which had been broken by vandals.
But on the inside, Lopez and Ghiglino, who were once featured on Home & Garden Television at their Shady Side home, were building Lopez’s urban dream house. Keeping only portions of the original brick exposed for flourish, Lopez installed new oak floors, upholstered the walls with lavish fabrics, put in a professional kitchen, created moldings replicating those in Buckingham Palace, and dressed the rooms with about 50 of his original paintings.
The couple has poured about $200,000 into the property, which they purchased for $55,000. Lopez often sleeps at the house on weekends and paints there in his upstairs studio daily.
“For him, [the thefts are] a direct attack on the place where he creates,” says Ghiglino.
In spite of the dangers imposed by Lopez, thieves either daring or just plain curious continue to scale Lopez’s barriers and haul off modest spoils. Just two weeks ago, the tenant living in Lopez’s basement had his bike stolen, even though it was sitting behind both the fence and the wall. The following day, the tenant saw a neighbor putting a fresh coat of paint on what looked to be his stolen bike. Lopez dismisses the possibility that his elaborate security measures make would-be burglars more curious about what may be inside all the fencing.
On April 19, Lopez removed the razor wire on his outer barricade to begin complying with the impending order. Though the city can force Lopez to remove anything from his perimeter and the portion of his yard that’s public space, he plans on painting the outside of his house black in protest and hanging signs from his second floor that read: “This house is being vandalized.”
But first he’ll be putting in a garden filled with nothing but roses. “The roses will probably be stolen, too,” he concedes, just before breaking a wry smile. “But roses have thorns.” CP