SELC Approves Temporary Mural

By Beth Treffeisen

A barren, graffiti riddled wall located on the border of the South End and Lower Roxbury, will soon be home to a temporary mural.

The South End Landmarks Commission (SELC) gave the final approval for a temporary mural on the south facing façade of 808 Tremont Street.

The artist and activist Ann Lewis will inspire the mural based off her time and workshops with the women of the McGrath House facility located on Massachusetts Ave., that supports women as they transition back into society during their last few months of their sentence.

“When you’re in the prison system you become very dehumanized and you can’t express yourself,” said Lewis. “This allows the women to learn about themselves in the neighborhood, build on their lack of self confidence and be supported by this community – it is a creative process.”

The wall overlooks a small parking lot that is owned by the Peoples Baptist Church across the street. The entrance to the Church will have a clear view onto the mural.

“We approached many people asking for permission,” said Kate Gilbert from Now and There, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating impactful public art projects in greater Boston. “Coincidentally the Church two weeks earlier was looking for someone to put a mural on the wall because they were sick at looking at the graffiti.”

The mural has already gained approval from the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, the Boston Arts Commission, and from local community members. The SELC was the last stop to gain permission to proceed forward.

The mural will go up in mid-June and stay for about 15 to 16 months. In the City of Boston all murals must be temporary and taken down within 18 months of installation.

“The Church has already asked if we do another mural after this one is done,” said Gilbert. “I would be happy to do it.”

Similar to the mural located on the Greenway in downtown Boston, this mural will have a number of protected coats that will both protect it from graffiti but allow it to be safely removed from the building’s façade.

The bottom ten feet, Lewis said, she will purposely left simple. That way if graffiti does become a problem it can easily be painted over.

The mural will be located on an apartment complex owned by The Community Builders, a nonprofit real estate developer that provides housing for families and seniors along with local businesses and public amenities that strengthen neighborhoods.

“As part of the South End for more than 50 years, The Community Builders is thrilled to host this powerful mural at our South End Apartments development,” wrote Stephanie Anderson Garrett the vice president of communications and fund development at The Community Builders.

She continued, “The public art will be a vibrant addition to the neighborhood for residents and neighbors to enjoy.”

This is not the first wall that Now and There wanted for this project, but they are happy with receiving this one. The number one choice was near 600 Massachusetts Ave., behind the Dunkin Donuts, since it would have been a lot closer to the McGrath house.

A resident of the McGrath House, whom was not allowed to give her name, attended the meeting and said she is really excited about this project.

“It gives me a purpose,” the resident said. “So many people are going to see it and although I’m not physically putting it up – it is going to be a part of me.”

Commissioner Catherine Hunt said that the collaboration is wonderful.

“It is nice that it will become an incubator for Boston’s taste in public art,” said Chair John Amodeo.

The commission allowed the mural because it is not located on a historic brick wall where the brick is exposed, but instead is a parting wall that has stucco over it. In addition if another mural wants to later come back to this wall it will need to go through the SELC again for approval.

“My goal is to be able to create something amazing for the women of the McGrath House,” said Lewis. “Being able to create a mural with the overall view of who these women are and then put in a public space is important.”

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Also approved at the meeting, is the construction of a new residential sixth floor penthouse that will sit on top of the Jordan Lofts located at 477 Harrison Ave.

The building is in limited protection area of the Landmarks Commission and asked for permission on massing. The additional penthouse will fit below the zoning maximum of the building.

The addition of the penthouse was part of the original design and what they proposed is the replication of what was already previously approved. The penthouse was never constructed due to a conflict with the neighbors but that has been resolved.

The Commission approved the application because the penthouse had a low profile and is mostly hidden behind a parapet.

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At 544 Tremont St., a black metal bracket currently is sitting empty, waiting to be filled with a corresponding sign. The South End Dental Associates that sits above the Addis Red Sea Ethiopian restaurant proposed putting a new blade sign and clock to fill that void.

The South End Landmarks Commission did not approve of putting a clock, because it has an animation to it and because it would require drilling a hole through the brick to power it. In addition the Commission did not like the thickness of the new sign that was needed to support the clock.

“Currently that space is typically used for retail use and it is not a traditional place where you put a clock, such as a church, library, or town hall,” said Chair John Amodeo.

The brackets, which don’t fit the South End Landmarks guidelines, will be grandfathered in. Details of a new sign that will correspond with the retail space and be a lot thinner will be submitted to staff.

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At the Villa Victoria Center of the Arts, at 85 West Newtown St., the Commission did not approve the application as presented. Major repairs will require temporary removal of historic stonework and long-term scaffolding to be present.

There has been a lot of water damage over the years and this work will mitigate that problem. The Commission approved selected demolition and temporary removal of historic fabric. The Commission asked that the proponents file with staff where the stonework will be kept during construction to avoid losing it.

The Commission also approved six months of scaffolding, after that time Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion will have to return for approval.

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