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City to fix historic murals

Bronx Times
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Step right up, and restore an iconic borough mural!

That’s the memo the city will soon send out to contractors bidding to repair the historic but rotting wall-length paintings in the rotunda of the borough’s County Courthouse.

Chief on the agenda is fixing the painting depicting Jonas Bronck, the borough’s namesake, who settled here in 1639. The Bronck mural has sustained extensive water damage from a leaky roof.

Beyond the bubbling paint, flakes from the ceiling have fallen onto the mural, and its canvas is cracked.

BEEP slams city

The Bronck mural was one of four paintings in the rotunda crafted by American muralist James Monroe Hewlett in 1932. All four murals depict key historical scenes in the area’s history, and are among the most recognizable art in the borough, said Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

But an outside contractor working with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) damaged the paintings in 2010, charged Diaz Jr. in a letter sent to City Hall in November.

The BEEP’s letter claimed that over three years later, DCAS had yet to make progress on repairing the paintings, whose condition had only gotten worse over that time.

“Action must be taken to stabilize the condition of this mural right away,” Diaz Jr. wrote.

Movement gains steam

Public pressure to revive the iconic murals came to a head when a local beer brewer, Steve Nallen, started an online petition to fix the historic paintings. Nallen designed his Jonas Bronck’s Beer Co. after the borough namesake, and his petition quickly netted over 100 signatures, as well as a story in the New York Daily News.

Missed deadline

Diaz Jr. hoped to have the murals fixed by the start of 2014 —a key milestone in the borough’s history. Besides the 100th anniversary of the Bronx’s formal separation from New York County, this year marks the 375th anniversary of Bronck’s arrival.

But the city missed that deadline, and the damaged murals remained on display in the Veterans Memorial Hall at the centennial kickoff event the BEEP hosted on Thursday, Jan. 9.

Bronx’s history buffs will have to wait just a bit longer to see the borough namesake’s picture restored to its former glory. But the BEEP’s office says the process is well underway.

“We’re happy that they continue to move forward, and look forward to an official request for proposal,” said John DeSio, a spokesman for Diaz Jr.

Ben Kochman can be reached via e-mail at BKochman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742–3394
Updated 12:47 pm, January 20, 2014
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