A $25,000 mural on 16th Street and Montgomery Avenue will be obscured during the construction of a $9 million student housing project by Maze Group Development scheduled to be finished prior to the end of the spring semester.
“In Living Memory: Those of Us Alive,” was created in 2003 by Philadelphia artist John Lewis to show the negative side effects of second-hand smoke. It is one of four murals raising awareness about tobacco use in the city.
Lewis, a Philadelphia-based artist who has been painting murals for 11 years since he moved to Philadelphia, has more than 20 murals throughout Philadelphia, including the one on 16th and Montgomery.
Lewis said his work on the mural took three months and was designed using portraits from residents in the neighborhood.
“I would rather it not be covered but I understand,” Lewis said. “I am OK with that. I mean obviously I would rather that not be the case but it’s been about 10 years since I painted it so that’s OK.”
“Those of Us Alive” will be obscured from view before March, the Maze group said.
“I remember the day we dedicated the mural,” Amy Johnston, information and event specialist at the city of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, said. “I hope, in the decade since, it’s done its work. Fortunately, “Those of Us Alive” was featured in our second coffee table book, “More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell”, published by Temple University Press in 2006, so it will live on in print.”
The student housing will feature three buildings with eight unit apartments, capable of housing 122 residents.
“We think it’s a really attractive location being so close to the university and it’s been vacant for many years and we really thought it was a waste and really an eyesore.” said Herb Reid III, vice president of Maze Group Development and one of the two owners.
“Those of Us Alive” is one of the city’s 3,600 murals that have been created by the Mural Arts Program, a program that began in 1984 as a component of the anti-graffiti network. In the last 12 years at least a dozen murals have been covered due to economic redevelopment like the one on 16th and Montgomery, according to the Mural Arts Program.
“We work hard at monitoring the status of our collection, and we appreciate assistance from property owners, neighbors and civic leaders. The truth is, there’s not always something we can do,” Johnston said.
Keith Jones, a truck driver who has lived on the 1700 block of Oxford Street for 25 years, said he has seen another mural in the neighborhood disappear due to economic redevelopment.
“There’s a mural that’s covered up now on the 1700 block of Cecil B. Moore. It was a mural of Cecil B. Moore and they covered that up. I feel some way about that because he was a civil rights leader,” Jones said. “If you’re covering it up can you at least put it somewhere else? At one time [the murals] served a purpose but the neighborhoods changed.”
“It’s a shame that such a positive influence is being destroyed, however this city is all about building new things, apartment buildings, etc., because they see the growth,” said Thelma Morgan, a social worker who has been a resident of North Philadelphia for 16 years.
Connor Sullivan, a junior architecture student at Temple who lives near 16th and Page streets, said he was sad to see the mural go.
“I’m not an advocate of covering up mural art because I’ve seen it as sort of a community organizational project and I think it’s something that even if it’s just beautification it adds a lot of value to city blocks,” Sullivan said. “The fact that [the mural] is being covered for student housing sucks.”
Maze Group Development currently owns 50 other apartments in the neighborhood. Once Maze Group development finishes the project the rooms will begin being rented out for $630-650 per month starting in August. The apartment building will feature a parking lot in the rear and keyless access.
Sarai Flores can be reached at email@example.com.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, an original version of this article published online and in print falsely attributed the quote “I remember the day we dedicated the mural…” to artist John Lewis. It was Amy Johnston who said that quote.