30-year mural to ‘stop the violence’ gets resurrected in South Philly

The developer who destroyed the art helped pay to get it painted anew.

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

Mural Arts just scored some major points for the Point Breeze neighborhood. The public art organization convinced a private developer to pony up $8,000 for the revamp of artwork his construction had covered.

City officials unveiled the new version of the longstanding “Stop the Violence” mural Wednesday morning. The blue, pink and yellow hues look fresh now, as they memorialize 46 youths who lost their lives years ago.

The move corrects a major blunder from last August, when developer Steven Brown took down the OG work of art without breathing a word to the community.

Wali Hepburn lives just around the corner from the artwork. The 29-year-old Point Breeze resident has played basketball at the courts across the street as long as he can remember — and three of his own relatives are listed in the artwork.

To him, the mural was always a motivator.

“It was just something good to keep me grounded and motivated to stay playing basketball, because I didn’t want my name to eventually end up on the wall,” he said.

Happily for the neighborhood, Brown ultimately helped pay to bring the painting back.

This is a relative rarity for Mural Arts, which constantly has to deal with new construction popping up in place of its handcrafted community centerpieces.

“No one wants to stand in the way of economic development,” Golden told Billy Penn. “But our position is that this work matters. It’s important.”

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

Three murals lost every year — but not this one

Golden estimated she loses three murals a year to new development. The problem isn’t new — but it’s gotten worse as Philly’s pace of construction has spiked.

In 2014, the John Coltrane mural at 32nd and Diamond got the wrecking ball to make room for an apartment complex. A year later, Temple University knocked down William Penn High School to replace it with athletic fields, taking out Cliff Eubanks’ “Street of Dreams” mural.

Developer Brown bought the five-bedroom single-family home with the “Stop the Violence” art last summer. He planned to spruce the place up and sell it for around $500,000. His intention was to save the mural, Brown told WHYY last year, but the building was on the verge of collapse, and he had to stucco the wall to secure it.

Once the mural was visibly covered, community outrage built swiftly.

“It makes me question new development that is coming into the community,” neighbor Robert Yates said at the time. “They look nice, but when you start coming for our murals, our memory lanes, it’s distressing.”

Then Mural Arts got involved. In the end, Brown paid almost half the cost to repaint the mural memorializing more than 40 neighborhood kids who died in shootings. It was painted in 1989, so long ago that at the time Mural Arts went by its former name: the Anti-Graffiti Network.

There’s a vacant lot next door, which might have spelled trouble in the form of a new structure that would cover up the mural. But instead, the Make the World Better Foundation, founded by former Eagle Connor Barwin, bought the property and plans to turn into a playspace for kids.

“It’s really a lesson for us that cities can change and not change at the same time,” Golden added. “How do we hold onto what’s wonderful in the community and embrace change?”

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