Quincy officials and a local bar owner say they're working together to legalize a huge mural that blends Barack Obama with Jimi Hendrix and that received an outpouring of support from residents.
According to David Keville, co-owner of Presidents Rock Club, the mural, tucked in an alleyway behind Hancock Street, has been on the side of his business since Labor Day weekend, but no one really made a fuss about it until this week.
“The wall had three different surfaces, stucco, brick and something in between. It wasn’t very pretty at all. And the kid who told me he was going to do it says, ‘I’m going to put a mural up there,’ and I said, ‘I don’t own the building,’” Keville said.
Regardless, the artist, who calls himself Brandalizm, painted the mural anyway.
Keville said he and his business partner were out of town when the mural went up, and returned to work after Labor Day to discover the wall had significantly changed.
In addition to depicting President Obama in the likeness of the iconic rock guitarist, the mural features the Obama campaign symbol with the slogan “Forward.” and urges people to “Rock the Vote.”
“It got people’s attention, but it wasn’t until now…that the hulabaloo started,” he said.
City officials said the Building Department first heard about the mural this week, when someone called about it.
According to mayoral spokesman Christopher Walker, the Building Department told the bar to paint over the mural because it violated the city's ordinances, which require murals to receive permission from the Planning Board and the Historic District Commission.
The owner was told that until the issue was resolved, he would incur a charge of $300 a day.
The issue was covered by news outlets, which triggered an outpouring of support. One website even started a petition to keep the mural intact.
When the office of Mayor Thomas Koch learned about the controversy, it decided to take a different approach.
"The Building Department was doing their job and following the code of the city. In this case, the mayor thought [the artwork] isn’t some grand controversy. If it’s the bar’s desire to get the appropriate permit, there is no need to take it down," Walker said.
Once the bar obtains the permit, any “fees” incurred in the meantime would be waived, he said .
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s artwork, it’s a mural, guided by the zoning code. And whatever it is, it’s fine if it stays, as long as it goes through the permitting process,” Walker said
Residents on both sides of the political spectrum agreed that keeping the mural is the right thing to do.
“I don’t want it to come down,” said Hingham resident and Republican Steve O’Connell, who works on Hancock Street. “It’s a free expression of thought. I just think it’s funny to equate Hendrix with Obama…but it doesn’t offend me.”
“We should be able to express ourselves. That’s the nature of America,” agreed Felicia Lawrence-Levister. “I’m happy a young person took interest; I like it.”
Keville said he's coming up with a plan to get the mural permitted, and that more likely than not, it will remain.
In the meantime, business has increased because of the artwork, and Keville has even reached out to the Obama campaign to see if the president might come see the work for himself.
Until then, Keville said he appreciates all the press, even if it did create some controversy.