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Wicker Park's Graffiti Removal Guru, David Lepola, Dies at 51

By Alisa Hauser | January 3, 2016 10:08am | Updated on January 4, 2016 9:44am
 David Lepola writes information about his graffiti removal service in a reporter's notebook, April 2015.
David Lepola writes information about his graffiti removal service in a reporter's notebook, April 2015.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK—  A fixture on Wicker Park streets — either removing graffiti or tucking his business card into the door frame of a tagged storefront, in hopes of winning a new client — David Lepola has died at 51. 

Founder and owner of Tag Free Glass, a graffiti removal service, Lepola died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm on Dec. 25 while celebrating Christmas in Valparaiso, Indiana, with his girlfriend and partner, Kim Vajner, according to his family.

"He was so much fun and had a wonderful sense of humor, always making people laugh... He loved the outdoors, camping and skiing and rafting: You name it, he did it," said Lili Lepola, David's mother.

Born in Park Ridge on July 10, 1964, David Lepola was raised in Highland Park and graduated from Deerfield High School and DeVry Technical Institute.

In 2005, Lepola bought a Milwaukee Avenue condo to set up permanent roots in Wicker Park. 

"He got tired of traveling. He wanted to settle down," Lili Lepola said.

Prior to starting Tag Free, which was a full-time operation and employed a few contractors to assist him as he removed graffiti at banks, restaurants and retailers, Lepola worked as a construction manager for a corporate restaurant chain where he was required to travel to open new eateries, Lepola told the Chicago Pipeline in 2011.

When he wasn't traveling for his construction job, Lepola said he'd noticed that many business owners in Wicker Park were removing entire panes of glass when their windows were tagged with acid etchings, a harmful type of graffiti.

So, in his free time, Lepola developed a proprietary process to successfully grind acid etchings from glass. 

Once Tag Free became his full-time gig in 2007, Lepola also introduced a protective 3M film that makes it easier to remove acid graffiti if a window got tagged.

"In a big city like ours, and especially in Wicker Park, the reality is if you own a business you will probably have to deal with graffiti. By putting the film on your window, you are being proactive rather than reactive," Lepola said.

Doug Brownfield, a former Double Door bouncer who relocated to Austin, Texas, said on Saturday that he was "crushed" to hear of Lepola's death.

"David was way too young to die. We were friends for almost 15 years. [We] spent a good amount of time together. I am privileged to have known David," Brownfield said.

In addition to Vajner and his mother, Lepola is survived by his father, Bill, an older brother Bill, Jr., sister-in-law Karen, nephew Matt, niece Amanda and many cousins and friends.

As a result of Lepola's death, his business has closed, Lili Lepola said.

A celebration of David Lepola's life is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 16 at St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, 18N377 Galligan Rd, Dundee, Illinois. In lieu of flowers, donations in Lepola's memory can be made to the church, according to an obituary published in the Tribune on Sunday.

David Lepola installs protective film over a window at Reckless Records, 1379 N. Milwaukee Ave. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

An advertorial, or sponsored story about Tag Free published in the Chicago Pipeline [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

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