The burgeoning commercial corridor of West Girard Avenue through Brewerytown is looking a little brighter these days thanks to a new mural unveiled last week.
Titled Moving Forward, the piece embraces what makes North Philadelphia along Girard Avenue unique, with a wide array of scenes depicting common neighborhood sights, from the iconic Route 15 Trolley to the architecture on every block.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the Fairmount Community Development Corporation, as she spoke to a crowd during the June 20 unveiling.
The mural, with a bright, golden sun shining down over the memorable scenery, is on a large wall at Pearlstein’s Furniture Co. at Girard and College avenues.
Johnson said the site was chosen because it’s a popular entry point to the stretch of shops and restaurants that have popped up along that section of Girard Avenue.
“It’s a gateway to Brewerytown at this intersection,” she said.
The mural was created based on input from community groups, including the Fairmount CDC, the West Girard Business Association, the Greater Brewerytown Community Development Corporation and the West Girard Community Council.
Jane Golden, a Fairmount resident and executive director of the city’s Mural Arts Program, said the design was selected through meetings to determine what residents wanted to see on the wall.
“This is about the history of the neighborhood and also, the blending of communities,” she said as she walked along the mural. “We wanted to pay tribute to the community, so we incorporated architecture from the community. It’s the buildings, the people … This is really a very interesting community.”
Thanks to a grant for about $12,500 from the city’s Commerce Department — funding used to create this mural and another on the Bishop’s Collar bar and restaurant at 24th Street and Fairmount Avenue — the mural has finally been completed after more than 18 months of work, said Johnson of the Fairmount CDC.
Also, Golden said that by placing a mural along a growing, improving commercial corridor like West Girard Avenue, business owners could see a real boost in business as the Mural Arts Program hosts regular mural tours — by trolley, train, bike, segway or simply walking — that brought more than 20,000 visitors through communities with murals last year.
According to Golden, not only does the mural tour provide an influx of patrons — looking for local places to eat or to shop — but, she claimed property values in the city rise in areas where murals are located.
And, perhaps most important, she said, the Mural Arts Program keeps artists working, helping to support the city’s creative economy, and provides art internships for youngsters looking to hone their craft.
The tour program will grow soon, Golden said, as the Mural Arts Program is in the midst of preparing to open a new tour office in the Gallery Mall in Center City.
Stepping up to address the crowd gathered on the sunny afternoon, City Councilman Darrell Clarke (D-5th dist.) said the Mural Arts Program was “a great program.”
“I look at this mural and I see the color and history blended together,” he said.
Clarke said that the mural reminded him that a community is about more than the bricks and mortar that make up the rows of housing.
“It’s not just about building buildings,” he said. “It’s about building communities.”
While artist Willis Humphrey was unable to attend the unveiling — Golden said he had family concerns at the last moment — Johnson of the Fairmount CDC, took her time to step back and assess the artwork, looking at the sun-baked images of a pair of trolleys, bookending an image filled with familiar looking buildings and faces.
She said that the community had a number of choices when selecting what the mural would be, from selection of design to an open call for artists, but felt that Humphrey’s style fit the community best.
“We didn’t just want this to be a picture of Girard College or beer for Brewerytown,” she said. “We wanted to make this a gateway to the community…and, we liked his style.”
Taking a long look at the newly painted mural, Johnson smiled when asked what she liked most about the painting.
“Oh, the sun, that’s my favorite part,” she said with a grin.
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org