Planned townhouse imperils Autumn mural at Ninth and Bainbridge

Community members and supporters say David Guinn's mural, "Autumn," has been an economic boon in Bella Vista.
Community members and supporters say David Guinn's mural, "Autumn," has been an economic boon in Bella Vista. (ASHLEE ESPINAL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 28, 2011

Optimism has withered for the preservation of Autumn, a mural at Ninth and Bainbridge Streets in Bella Vista and a fixture that has drawn tourists to the neighborhood.

On Wednesday at a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting, developers who own the empty lot adjacent to the mural requested a parking variance that would allow them to build a single-family townhouse on the lot, blocking the view of the mural from the street.

Several Bella Vista residents and artist David Guinn, who created the mural, have collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition to save the mural and pledges of close to $250,000 from community members to buy the property in question.

Currently a parking lot, the property is owned by the developer 631 South 9th Street L.L.C.

David Orphanides, attorney for the developer, said $250,000 would not cover his client's costs of purchasing the property as well as anticipated profit, which he estimated to total around $600,000.

"[The developers] feed their family by buying property, adding value, and selling that added value because of skills and ability," Orphanides said. "It's commerce. That's commerce. Nobody sells things for what they buy them for."

Several Bella Vista community members disagree.

Paige Gottesman, 39, owner of Our House Montessori School, whose windows look out on the mural, said it was the reason she chose the site of her school, which she opened last year. She said she integrated the mural into her curriculum, asking students to interpret it.

"In this economy, it's like asking for the moon or something," Gottesman said of the developers' estimated price.

The mural, a warm-hued rendering of a small house in the middle of a forest of autumn foliage and young girl holding a small bird, holds special significance for its supporters.

"There's something about that mural that just moves people," Gottesman said.

Guinn, a lead advocate for preserving the mural - one of four seasonally themed works - said it reflected a personal narrative of his childhood in Philadelphia. The three other season murals are in Bella Vista, Center City, and Queen Village.

"The subtitle of the mural is Your House in the Forest," Guinn said. "And the idea was I imagined a place that I would have wanted to go to as a kid and kind of painted it."

Jane Golden, executive director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, said she was heartened by the community support. She said Autumn and 16 other murals on the program's guided tour fostered economic development by drawing tourists and new business to neighborhoods.

But she said she was conflicted about questioning the developers' plan and hoped a compromise could be reached that would maintain or recreate the mural somewhere else.

"Cities are fluid and dynamic and changing," she said.

Zoning officials decided to postpone for two weeks any decision on whether to grant the developers the variance, to allow time for community leaders, Mural Arts Program representatives, and the developer to reach a compromise.

Orphanides said he and his client had discussed selling the individual parking spots to neighborhood residents for an estimated $45,000 each as permanent off-street spots.

But he said some residents' statements had frustrated him and his client, ultimately weakening their willingness to compromise.

"They refuse to take an obvious avenue to achieving their goals," Orphanides said. "They want to do it their way."

Marcie Ziskind, 53, who owns the Expressive Hand, a do-it-yourself pottery shop in the 600 block of South Ninth Street, said that the mural had drawn tourist traffic to her business, but that she would not be willing to pay for its preservation.

"It is a shame that a beautiful mural would be covered up," she said. "On the other hand, this city's constantly changing. It's an ever-changing organism, so murals on walls that neighbor lots might be temporary. It's kind of the nature of the beast."

Contact staff writer Reity O'Brien at 215-854-2917 or


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