By Wesley Ratko
Mural Arts Program Executive Director Jane Golden appeared before the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee Thursday night, April 5, to discuss the mural proposed for the side of Bredenbeck’s Bakery and Ice Cream Parlor at 8126 Germantown Ave. Golden was joined by Caroline King, a Chestnut Hill resident and Mural Arts representative, and Bredenbeck’s owner, Karen Boyd.
The subject of the mural was strictly informational for the committee. The Mural Arts Program and Bredenbeck’s do not need approval from the CHCA. The subject of how to control or influence future murals had come up in prior committee meetings, so Golden and King were invited to discuss the process used by the Mural Arts Program to select buildings on which murals are placed.
One group concerned about murals is the Chestnut Hill Historic District Advisory Committee, which issued a six-point statement regarding the installation of murals on buildings within the historic district.
That statement, written in consultation with the Philadelphia Historic Commission and the Preservation Alliance, asked that murals not be applied directly to historic “fabrics” such as masonry or stucco, that the paint used be of a kind that doesn’t trap moisture, that an agreement between the building owner, the community, and the Mural Arts Program regarding continued maintenance be put in place, and that any future murals go through the normal design review process. The statement also asked that a “sunset” date be put in place, “at which time the mural can be reviewed and its future determined.”
No representatives of either the Chestnut Hill Historical Society or the Historic District Advisory Committee were present at Thursday’s meeting.
After some discussion about the mural’s design, LUPZ committee co-chair Cynthia Brey asked Golden how the Bredenbeck’s mural proposal came to be.
“I was just made aware of this a few weeks ago,” Brey said, “and it was presented as though it was a fait accompli.”
“I’m sorry if you in any way felt blindsided,” Golden said. “We tried to go through what I thought was a good process,”
One of Brey’s central concerns was who would take responsibility for future maintenance of the mural.
Golden referred to Seth Turner, Director of Mural Operations & Restoration for the Mural Arts program. Turner told the committee that before the murals are painted, the walls are inspected for integrity and signs of water damage. Once cleared, the first step to preparing a wall is to check and, wherever necessary, fix the flashing at the top of the wall to prevent water infiltration. Turner said walls are then thoroughly cleaned and primed.
Golden explained that all mural budgets come with contingency funds for maintenance restoration, and that work will not begin on a mural until those funds are adequate.
“It’s all about the impact a mural has on a neighborhood,” Golden said, adding that her goal was not to complete a quota of murals throughout the city.
“We want to be responsive to every neighborhood in the city,” said Golden.
Golden said special weatherproof mural paint is used to create the image. The paint is designed to last 25 years, although according to Golden and Turner, the newer paints could last much longer. Turner said that when the mural is finished and the paint is dry, it’s sealed with an archival top coat will to further protect it from the elements. Mural arts staff regularly inspect the murals and the walls on which they’re painted for damage and peeling and will make repairs when and if necessary.
Karen Boyd, owner of Bredenbeck’s, told the committee that she really wants to have the mural. She told the committee that the mural depicts a specific place in the Wissahickon and is not simply a generic natural scene being painted on the side of a building.
Golden said the mural artist for this project – Ann Northrup – does what their best mural artists do – look at context, architecture, color, and setting.
Boyd said selecting the mural design (from a final list of five proposals) was very difficult. “I wish I had five walls,” she said. She said she selected the image she did because the natural setting appealed to her, more than any of the other options, which depicted architectural themes or people walking along the avenue.
“I just wanted to have nature,” she said. “It was very peaceful and calm.”
CHCA Board member Tom Hemphill expressed his full support for the project. He was somewhat critical of the importance placed on evaluating the mural selection process.
“Sometimes it seems to me that we need to get the hell out of the way and get the work done,” he said.
Brey siad there was a need to consider a process that could be followed for future murals. Later discussion of how to incorporate the proposed mural guidelines provided by Historic District Advisory Committee centered on the possibility of incorporating them into the existing Germantown Avenue sign guidelines. Further discussion on that, however, will take place before the Development Review Committee where the input of both Aesthetics and Historic District Advisory committees will be available.
Golden said that , although there was no need to get official support from the CHCA or its committees, she was very much interested in having broad support for the mural in Chestnut Hill.
“If everyone in Chestnut Hill said, ‘Jane Golden, we don’t want this, get out of here,’ we’ll go. We have a huge waiting list,” Golden said. “It’s about beauty, it’s about hope, it’s about bringing inspiration to the city.”
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