The Murals of Wallingford (Seattle)
by Samuel D. Gruber
Since I just posted about the murals in my own Syracuse neighborhood, I thought I show what some other places are painting in their neighborhoods, too. There are many definitions of neighborhood, but certainly one way of branding a neighborhood is to give a distinctive visual feel - and murals are a popular and relatively inexpensive way to do that. Murals vary in quality of execution and subject matter, but even bad murals are often embraced by the local community. What are the alternatives? Bleak walls or even better murals. Or, a high visually engaging urban architecture that is functional and affordable, but also visually stimulating - and fun. In some times and places (Renaissance Italy murals were painted to enhance and expand the architecture through tromp l'oeil and other fictive devices, a technique revived in New York and other American cities by muralist Richard Haas and disciples beginning in the 1970s. Most contemporary urban muralists seem to lack the desire or skill to match. preferring a much different aesthetic more akin to spontaneity of certain folk traditions or the slickness of advertising.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Seattle and was fortunate to stay in the Wallingford neighborhood, just a half block off 45th Street. The half mile straight stretch is the heart of the district and is lined with dozens of restaurants, a library, movie theaters and a mix of useful and traditional stores (lamps, etc.) and a trendy new places.
On either side are residential blocks heavy with early 20th-century Craftsman-style bungalows. There are many murals all over Seattle, but murals are an especially distinctive part of the 45th Street district. Some are community oriented; some advertise the businesses whose walls they adorn. This is not an entirely new practice. Traces of at least one old painted ad - for Henry Nelson Real Estate - is still visible. No new mural has been painted on that wall to compete.