Mural draws debate at Martinsburg City Council meeting

May 09, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - All of the trouble stemmed from a mural - a bit of paint, a flair of artistry, a dab in nostalgia.

At the Martinsburg City Council meeting Thursday night, more than an hour was spent discussing the mural, which is planned for the side of a brick building at 124 S. Queen St. It will depict a marching band that played in the city from 1896 to sometime in the 1930s.

After listening to several people speak for and against the project, the city's attorney said council members could neither approve nor deny the project because nobody filed a formal appeal.


Opponents say the mural will detract from the building's historical character. Proponents call it a gift to the city that will draw people downtown.

Last June, the Historic Review Commission approved the project by a 4-3 vote, according to Mayor George Karos. Because nobody filed a formal appeal within 30 days of that decision, council members could take no action, said Oakley Seibert, legal counsel for the city.

If they desire, those opposed to the mural can appeal the decision to Circuit Court, Seibert said.

At the City Council meeting, Don Wood, president of the Berkeley County Historical Society, read aloud a description of the building's facade and unique characteristics. If anything, Wood said, the front of the building should be restored.

"It's trashing one of our beautiful landmarks," Wood said later of the mural.

Jeff Curtis, executive director of Main Street Martinsburg, agreed that the building is beautiful. A project of Main Street, Curtis said the mural will contribute to the organization's goal of revitalizing the heart and soul of the city.

Architect Matthew Grove, who was on the design committee for the mural, said six buildings were considered as possible sites. Eventually Main Street decided to go with the one at 124 S. Queen St., with the blessing of its owner.

A $15,000 arts grant will be used to pay for the mural, which will be done by Hagerstown artist Bettina Messersmith.

"We really see this as a rich project, one that really does contribute to the downtown," Grove said.

Councilman Glenville Twigg asked how long the mural will last.

Depending on the integrity of the brick and the weather, it should last for about 25 years before any major repainting is necessary, Messersmith said.

When asked by Councilman Chris Baker how much it would cost to remove the mural, Messersmith said she did not know because nobody has ever asked her to remove a mural she has done.

La Rue Frye, who owns several downtown buildings, implied to council members that several property owners may leave Martinsburg if the mural is painted.

Grove, though, said Frye did not speak for the majority of the 200 downtown businesses. Very few have expressed a negative attitude toward the mural, he said.

Abandoning the project to appease a few is not an option, advocates of the mural said.

"I think it's beautiful. I think it will be beautiful," said Barbara Bratina, a member of Main Street Martinsburg's Board of Directors.

Painting is set to begin next month.

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