Murals, wall art, have become the rage all over the world. They are one way for artists to express themselves writ large. There are so many ways to write about these expressive outpourings, none of which are coming to me now, however!
One neighborhood in town is mobbed on weekends by visitors to see the proliferation of murals. It was all started by the late developer, Tony Goldman, whose wish was to create an outdoor, living museum. Here, his stenciled portrait fills a wall.
I had not planned it, but now I give tours of this area and am being drawn into some of the artwork. The other day, we parked below this building adorned by the work of PunkMeTender (https://punkmetender.com/)
This hotel doorway has been replaced by some other images (see closing notes).
One can go on and on about this district, but that’s for another time …
Murals are not newcomers to our city. They have long added to the architectural richness.
At the height of the early years of tourism when Art Deco buildings proliferated, between 1934 and 1939, Earl laPan filled the interior walls of over 300 hotels and apartment buildings. His style featured a romantic and fantastic image of South Florida in a pale pastel palette. This mural in the Victor Hotel is a good starting point to talk about the early 20th century trade in plumage that almost emptied the Everglades of a rich native birdlife.
One of laPan’s murals is in the background of this historic photo of one of the smaller hotels now transformed into condos in South Beach. Depicted is a time when elderly, primarily Jews, flocked here to enjoy their final days, another endangered species.
Another set of mosaic murals were found on the recently demolished Wells Fargo building in the center of town. These intricate images depicted scenes of American history were created by Enzo Gallo in 1971.
Gallo was an Italian immigrant who first went to Cuba to study architectural engineering. When Castro took power he joined the thousands who left the island for Miami.
Another set of murals, inside this time, are found in the historic “Freedom Tower.”
The New World 1513 mural, original to the building built in 1925 was recreated in 1987 by a group called the Miami Artisans. The original intention of the mural was to celebrate Ponce de Leon’s arrival in what is now South Florida, a meeting of the Old World and the New World.*
*I prefer not to use the term New World. The Western Hemisphere was not new to the people living here at the time of the arrivals of the Europeans.
The poem embedded in the mural was composed by the noted American poet Edwin Markham (https://poets.org/poet/edwin-markham).
And finally, there’s the Venetian, an apartment building/condominium that always catches my eye when I go to work. I know nothing about this graceful Mediterranean Revival building nestled among Art Deco treasures.
The Venetian’s painted and other details reveal the architectural features common on Mediterranean Revival buildings . On the window detail above, note the corner quoins, painted to replicate stones that would add to the structure.
It’s funny, as I’m assembling the images and text of this short piece, I realize that the notion endangered continues to pop up. The birdlife depicted in Earl laPan’s amazing mural was threatened, then saved by the enlightened conservation community. Development was at the heart of Tony Goldman’s efforts to create a living museum in Wynwood. As I walk though, from time to time, however, I see high rise buildings emerging and the engaging murals being tagged and covered over by other artists. I wonder what are the ethics in that community which actually leads to not preserving this artworks.
Development in the Art Deco district was a strong force that endangered the elderly populations who sought to spend their last years in the sun from the 60s to the 80s. The preservation community launched a strong effort to save many of our architectural landmarks, but could not prolong the lives of the residents. Other, more recent initiative of developers endanger landmarks, like the mosaic-encrusted bank building, has fallen to make way for another hotel. On the other hand, the mural at Freedom Tower was beautifully recreated by a group of artists, and the building is now undergoing another round of necessary restoration.
Finally, the Venetian. What is in her future? How long will her Mediterranean Revival lines grace out city? Change happens, yes. I think, however, we need not lose sight of our built and painted history.