By Elizabeth Trotter
On Oct. 21, community garden members, neighbors, and developers held a public meeting to discuss the future of the Brownsville mural that has identified the Jess Good Rewards Children’s garden for the past twenty years.
The mural is modeled after the garden it presides over and was completed in the early 2000s. It depicts several children harvesting and playing at sunset and stands several stories high on an older brick building directly next to the garden at 203 Sutter Avenue. The mural was dedicated to a community hero named Benjamin ‘Keefe’ Clark III who worked in Tower Two of the World Trade Center. He passed away assisting others on September 11th.
Due to its previous owner going bankrupt, the building is now in the hands of Aryeh Simon. The corner lot on Sutter Ave and Thomas S Boyland Street has been under construction for several years making it a point of contention amongst community members who have dealt with an excess of trash and rodents.
“The point of this meeting is not to destroy the mural,” said Mr. Simon at the start. Mr. Simon, along with his site manager and his general contractor, have proposed several ways of keeping the mural intact. One way suggests bracing the mural during construction while the rest of the building is demolished. Once the new building is erected, the mural wall will be structurally incorporated into the new building. This proposal, however, comes with stipulations.
The top portion would have to be removed meaning, the sun would have to be repainted on the new building. Attendees, including Jestine Roper who is the leader of the community garden and who has been running environmental education programs out of the garden for the past thirty-six years, seemed skeptical. “If you bring the top down, we don’t know if the wall will collapse,” said Ms. Roper referring to the 72-year-old wall.
Mr. Simon’s general contractor explained that according to engineers the building is not structurally sound and needs to come down. Many of the attendees were pushing for landmark status for protection while others offered some examples of buildings whose facades were saved from demolition. ”What’s in the mural cannot be replaced”, said Ms. Roper.
Another attendee, having dealt with a number of developers in her own community of the Bronx, Nancy Ortiz-Surun of Finca del Sur, focused on the importance of seeing art as part of humanity and the need for developers to respect the communities they build in. “History needs to be celebrated, not buried,” she said.
For now, the future of the mural remains unclear but both parties seem dedicated to reaching a decision together. “We want to work with you. We want to be good neighbors”, said Ms. Roper to Mr. Simon.
Mr. Simon has stated that he is waiting until a decision has been reached with community members until construction begins.
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