In 2003, pro-HD folks insisted the Historic Commission would NEVER
despite contradictory words in the HC ordinance.
I investigated, discovered and revealed an action against a privately
commissioned mural placed on a side / alley wall of a property on
15th (S. of Pine) in the Ritt-Fit HD.
At a 2003 hearing the mural was granted a 4 year reprieve, under
something the HC defined as a "Sunset Provision".
At the time, I feared the decision was merely an attempt to put
a back burner, to lower the heat on other proposed HD fronts.
And my fear has been realized.
Friday, January 12, the HC met and ordered the mural painted over,
brick red paint, so that the wall would appear more historic.
The HC also locks the property owner into a position that limits
improvements, because doing so would trigger additional HD
The owner of the property plans to appeal.
A story (with color photos) is in the latest PGN, link via:
The property owner, "Michael Shur" is actually "Michael Sher" a
I am proud that he is able and willing to commission art and to defend
art and artists.
The mural has found strong supporters among artists and the GLBTG
A blog has been started at:
I don't know who posted, but he (or she) appears to be a fan of the
One of the blogs better features is a side by side comparison, of
the existing wall vs. what it would look like with a fresh coat of
It also contains an image that draws the probable outcome (and
reality for this wall) which is that a blank slate tempts graffiti.
The current ruling comes at an ironic time.
The Royals plan a Jan. 27 visit to Philadelphia.
... Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall,
to focus on themes of youth development, urban regeneration and
... Besides visiting some of the city's historic sites, including the
Liberty Bell, the two will learn about the city's Mural Arts
country's largest public art program ...
There are fascinating back stories to the mural.
The mural started with a much lighter and lovelier theme of "Venus and
The located close to Broad and South Streets invited themes of
Philadelphia traditions, (Mummer's Parades, Night Clubs and Theater).
The mural segued to "Death of Venus" after the first threats from
The Artist felt under attack and despaired for the Mural's survival.
She struck back in paint moving toward themes of restraint and
She found herself unable to complete the Mural and it remains much
nuanced than it should be.
Even unfinished, and reflecting less attractive themes, the mural
Artist Dee Chin seems too fragile to explain or defend her work.
Her most vivid early memories include helping an uncle pass as a
to avoid the death meted out to men by the Khmer Rouge.
When the disguise failed or the deception was revealed, the uncle was
brutally beheaded, at home, in front of the young child.
Dee arrived in the USA as a Cambodian refugee boy in time to be
into the HS for the Performing Arts.
Dee learned English quickly and won awards for singing, acting,
While still in high school she was chosen to paint a mural at CHOP.
Dee has triumphed in struggles against prejudices against her poverty,
status, accent, ethnicity and transgender choice.
Dee feels the threat against her art as a very personal attack.
She views the mural is her "child" and the HC as a stalker / murderer.
She is almost paralyzed by the arbitrary, bureaucratic and very public
attack on her painting.
Property owner Sher defines himself as "a Jew".
He has visited Israel.
His mother made a 2006 visit to Auschwitz to honor the memory of lost
He views the HC decision as a censorship of the kind practiced by
racists, totalitarian regimes, book burners, colonizers and culture
He is shocked that HC chair Michael Sklaroff, seemed to bully the
the decision to destroy the art.
He wonders how people who have survived cultures of oppression can
the lessons of history.
The mural is located on a side wall.
It is on a section of Waverly street that is little more than a
It faces the dumpsters of a dorm type hi-rise and its neighbors are ad
hoc parking spaces carved out of the back yards of houses on Pine and
I used to park in one of the nearby spaces and remember the wall as
damaged stucco, covered with graffiti and used as a urinal by drunks
leaving local clubs.
I tried to move my car before dark to avoid open air drug sales and
problems that were drawn into the dark alley.
Even though I prefer the original version of the mural, I can see that
the mural has fans, and draws eyes and tourists into the alley,
keep all the neighbors safer.
Graffiti artists seem to respect the art, and so drug instructions and
G-tags have been reduced along the length of the street, not just the
The artist is lucky that she has found a patron who is able and
to hire an attorney to defend her work.
I hope that her suffering finds some compensation by way of publicity
that might even help her work increase in value.
Michael Sklaroff and the five HC commissioners who voted against the
mural, including at least one who works at PENN, should be ashamed of
I hope that the word of their perfidy is widespread and causes them
kind of embarrassment that makes them better weight their choices.
UC's own Scott Wild's was a voice and vote of reason, but was
by the whims of the aesthetically fussy.
I am grateful to Scott, even though his defense was futile, and
understands that I will be against the HD in UC.
The UC Historical Society and erstwhile leaders of the Spruce Hill
community association seem determined to impose an HD upon their
neighbors, and I hope this story of the mural acts as a warning.
The presence of a controlling HD resulted in changes to the mural,
before it was completed, and has led to the current order for its
And I want everyone to witness the big lie that an HD won't impose
Shouldn't we be encouraging those who have financial ability to make
private support of the arts?
Shouldn't we encourage individuals to make independent improvements
instead of limiting all art to "Programs" sponsored by bureaucracy?
I love the Mural Arts Program and am proud to live in a city with
public art, but I know how consensus-centric MA must be.
I think we have room for and should encourage the creation of (even if
just by purchase) greater varieties of art.
I hope others find ways to speak up for art and for private property
All the best!
P. S. I have attached excerpts from my post of Fri, 31 Jan 2003,
... lets start with the TRUTH about regulating color.
Regulating color is specifically required in the 12 pages of the
ORDINANCE (#14-2007. Historic Buildings...)
Here is the link.
"UNLESS A PERMIT IS FIRST OBTAINED FROM THE DEPARTMENT, NO PERSON
ALTER ... ANY BUILDING ... OR OBJECT WITHIN AN HISTORIC DISTRICT."
(a) Alter or Alteration:
"A CHANGE IN THE APPEARANCE..."
"EXTERIOR FEATURES INCLUDING
MASS, HEIGHT, APPEARANCE AND
THE TEXTURE, ****COLOR****, NATURE AND
COMPOSITION OF MATERIALS."
(the *** are mine)
... A local Historic District is a set of boundaries.
And by ORDINANCE every building, site and even object within the
boundaries becomes subject to the rules, delays, added expense and
bureaucratic tangles of Ordinance 14-2007.
Sure, not every T will be crossed, and some owners (Karp, PENN,
etc.) will win exemption, but ALL will have to run the gamut of the
... rational folks will want to avoid that headache.
... The HC is set up so that neighbors selectively "rat out" those
who do work without a permit.
This could mean that
the rich can defend and
the popular will get a pass, but
the poor, unpopular or obvious will get hammered.
... check out
Just imagine the pork in the barrel at PHC which has the power to
designate buildings or districts,
make recommendations concerning the use of grants & appropriations
make recommendations regarding the purchase of any building
review alteration, demolition, building and environmental
provide concession agreement oversight (as for Eastern Penitentiary).
... The facts are with the anti HD neighbors.
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