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Zoom in: Avondale

Hector Alvarenga transformed his home into an art installation of mostly discarded junk.


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To Hector Alvarenga, nothing is garbage. Well, some things are probably garbage, but as a scrap collector and professional welder, he sees potential in other people's trash. That potential is realized inside, outside, and all over his two-story Avondale home, located at the corner of Monticello and Barry. In front, between the sidewalk and the curb, a toilet and an old bathtub have become planters. So have old shoes he's nailed to a tree. In the front yard, behind a wrought-iron fence painted in every primary color (and green), there's an enormous cross with a crown of thorns atop it, and a wire basket hanging from each arm like the scales of justice.

Wearing a pith helmet and peering down from his rooftop deck, Alvarenga says in a heavy accent, "I love scrap. I love garbage. Everything you see here is garbage. I put it together. I see people throw away stuff in the alley and I think, 'I can do something with that.'" He gestures toward the six-foot-tall concrete Statue of Liberty that resides on the deck—and which he discovered being dumped behind a church. It was heavy. But he picked it up. A couple years ago he painted it to resemble a real woman instead of sticking with the traditional verdigris.

His decorations aren't all garbage. Like the three six-foot-tall banners attached to the house's broad side that feature, respectively, Princess Di, Pope John Paul, and Oscar Romero, a Catholic bishop from Alvarenga's home country of El Salvador. There's also a picture of Che Guevara and a poster of Alvarenga alongside Barack Obama. It's the home of a guy living the American dream. His neighbors may not all be thrilled about it, but the display was recently approved by city inspectors.

In case his house didn't speak loudly enough on his behalf, Alvarenga says, "Tell people, 'The owner's a little crazy, but he's OK.'"

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