A couple of articles featured Circleville, Ohio earlier this year, Square the Circle and Circleville Survived. I’d honed in on this otherwise nondescript town because anything with a circle was fair game for Twelve Mile Circle, and I actually discovered a few fascinating tidbits, confirming once again that geo-oddities existed everywhere. One such item included a remarkable trompe l’oeil mural of a nostalgic old-timey scene of what the town may have looked like a century ago. It had been commissioned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Circleville’s Pumpkin Show
Circleville Ohio downtown Mural by excelglen, on Flickr (cc)
The artist was Eric Henn of Eric Henn Murals, and a Circleville native. I’d wanted to post an article about other Eric Henn artworks right away. That wouldn’t have been unprecedented, either. I’ve featured other artists of outdoor wonders such as The Visual Genius of Dave Oswald. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn’t find enough photographs with the proper Creative Commons licensing to display them here. An article about artwork without images would have been a problem so I set the idea aside, revisited it from time-to-time, and just recently found enough examples to continue.
The Eric Henn portfolio focused on outdoor structures including buildings, petroleum storage tanks and water towers. I managed to find a representative sample and some additional background information for a few that piqued my interests.
Brick Arches Mural – Franklin, Ohio by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)
About 90 miles west of Circleville, in Franklin, Ohio, stood a great concentration of Eric Henn murals. Local residents were justifiably proud of them too, as noted by the local Convention & Visitors Bureau:
City of Murals Tour. Take a self-guided walking tour around the city of Franklin, Ohio for a day and you’ll understand why it’s called the "City of Murals." Ten beautiful murals depicting different scenes throughout the history of the city can be found all around town. The murals, most found on the exterior of buildings, were painted by nationally known local muralist Eric Henn, and include the only Ohio Bicentennial mural in the state that is not on a barn.
Apparently Mr. Henn relocated from Circleville to Franklin at some point in his life and went about creating murals in his new home town. The image I selected on the Huntington Bank Building (map and Street View) won some type of National Municipal Mural Award although I couldn’t find further information about it. Nontraditional outdoor artwork like this had an issue, however. Harsh weather will take a toll eventually and some of the Franklin murals were a little worse for wear although restoration efforts were underway.
Savannah Globe by Dizzy Girl on Flickr (cc)
It would probably be obvious to most 12MC readers that a globe mural would fascinate me the most. This portrait of earth applied to an old natural gas holding station in Savannah, Georgia replaced an earlier and less realistic version created by another artist that had fallen into disrepair (map).
Once dubbed the largest world in the world — 60 feet in diameter — the globe was operable until the 1970s. By then, a well-known part of Savannah’s geography, the globe was maintained by the gas company until the early 90s. When A to Z Coating bought the rusting structure, it asked businesses to help it get the planet back in shape. More than a year later, the time has finally come…
Eric Henn Murals was commissioned to paint the globe in its new form in 1999. A minor controversy ensued when the image included a hurricane just off of the coast of Savannah. I would have thought the controversy might have been related to the application of a potentially catastrophic storm about to slam into the city. No, apparently that wasn’t a problem. Rather the hurricane had been painted as rotating in the wrong direction, as if it were moving out to sea. A quick touch-up resolved the situation and the storm charted a course to Savannah. The storm, incidentally, can be seen quite clearly on Street View.
Mt. Jackson, Virginia has an apple basket water tower by Andrew Wiseman on Flickr (cc)
I hate driving on Interstate 81 in Virginia — HATE it — with frequent hills that bunch up intense truck traffic. It’s probably second only to Interstate 95 on my list of evil roads to avoid unless absolutely necessary. However, I know I’m just about done with the horrible experience when I pass the apple basket water tower in Mount Jackson (map and Street View). The design made perfect sense. Apples have long been a fixture of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, with an annual Apple Blossom Festival and everything.
Originally the tower had been decorated with large vinyl stickers that started to decay after many years of exposure to the elements. Mt. Jackson hired Eric Henn Murals to replace the design with paint applied freestyle. The special paint cost $400 a gallon and was expected to last 30 years. He completed the effort in January 2015 after about three months of work. One of the local television stations had a nice video describing his efforts. Henn was also commissioned recently to restore the famous Gaffney Peachoid along Interstate 85 in South Carolina, perhaps the most iconic roadside water tower anywhere.
A park near my home happened to be constructed above an interstate highway leading into Washington, DC. The roadway at that point was tucked within a little valley leading downhill towards the Potomac River. Drivers on Interstate 66 entered a tunnel briefly before returning to daylight and crossing the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge into the city. Most people shot through there so quickly they probably didn’t even wonder what they’d burrowed beneath.
Sometime during I-66’s construction someone had the grand idea of creating a three-acre ceiling above the motorway and christened it Arlington Gateway Park, a decent attempt at open space albeit a bit underused. The county did try to talk it up though, saying the park "…is the home of the annual Rosslyn Jazz Festival every September, is a great place to watch the 4th of July fireworks and provides a nice view of Georgetown from the Skywalk." Little did I know Gateway Park was well ahead of the times when constructed in the 1970’s. Now there’s quite a trend of undergrounding freeways in order to create open space, or even obliterate roadways entirely.
I took a closer look at a few commonly noted instances of this trend in urban renewal, those often cited as positive examples.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
A familiar story of relentless highway construction supporting a prevailing automobile culture struck an axe blow through neighborhoods in Milwaukee during the middle of the last century. It reached its farthest tide with the East Park Freeway which was only partially constructed before activist summoned enough political power to halt further progress. The highway would have stretched from Interstate 43 to Milwaukee’s Lake Michigan shoreline. Instead it became an underused 1-mile spur, and "The elevated freeway lowered the value of the surrounding land, so it was used primarily for surface parking, though some of it was right on the Milwaukee River." Sensing the error of their ways, city officials demolished the East Park Freeway in 2002.
Renewal remains a work in progress in Milwaukee as demonstrated by several empty parcels along the old highway right-of-way in the satellite image, above. The route formerly ran along the southern edge of McKinley Avenue and the Milwaukee River. Three new neighborhoods began to rise on the newly-available land, the McKinley District, Lower Water Street District and Upper Water Street District. All of them are being redeveloped with New Urbanist elements although it will take many more years.
Seoul, South Korea
Cheonggyecheon Umbrellas by travel oriented via Flickr (cc)
The Cheonggye Freeway rose from postwar South Korea in the 1950’s with active construction lasting into the 1970’s. War refugees settled in makeshift shacks along Gaecheon stream, turning it into a fetid cesspool. The neighborhood became an eyesore and an embarrassment to government officials. The natural solution for that period involved the forcible removal of residents, undergrounding the stream, building surface streets over top of it, and finally constructing an elevated freeway one level above that. The government considered this project sleek and modern, a symbol of South Korea’s recovery and industrial might.
It didn’t work quite as planned as years passed. The neighborhood began to become a bit shabby, plus it had an elevated freeway running through the heart of it. The freeway itself became an annoying traffic choke point, perhaps more a symbol of frustrated driving and grimy air pollution than a modern South Korea. Cheonggye Freeway had to go. In its place came Cheonggyecheon (청계천) in 2005, a 10 kilometre restoration of Gaecheon stream along with accompanying landscaping and beautification (map). Now the area attracts residents and tourists alike instead of repelling them.
Arganzuela – Madrid Río by Abel de Burgos via Flickr (cc)
The final example cited quite frequently could be found in Madrid, Spain. Here a river also had been undergrounded and replaced with a freeway. The M-30 motorway created a tight ring around Madrid beginning in the 1970’s, looping immediately west of the city center. Designers followed the path of least resistance, the natural bed of the Manzanares River, with asphalt taking precedence at the surface. The freeway created two negative consequences; a visual blight on the landscape and disconnected neighborhoods.
Once again tastes changed. The layers reversed in a series of efforts between 2006 and 2011. The M-30 shifted underground and the Manzanares River returned to the surface to form Madrid Río, a 7 kilometer linear park (map). As the New York Times described the situation,
The park here, called Madrid Río, has largely been finished. More than six miles long, it transforms a formerly neglected area in the middle of Spain’s capital. Its creation, in four years, atop a complex network of tunnels dug to bury an intrusive highway, also rejuvenates a long-lost stretch of the Manzanares River, and in so doing knits together neighborhoods that the highway had cut off from the city center… the park belongs to a larger transformation that includes the construction of dozens of new metro and light-rail stations that link far-flung, disconnected and often poor districts on Madrid’s outskirts to downtown.
Madrid Río converted a bleak asphalt landscape into an enjoyable pedestrian zone.
There were many other examples I could have referenced if I’d had more space. Certainly Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway constructed as a result of the Big Dig fit the same theme. I already talked about that one in 2010’s Over the Road article. Another example would be The High Line in New York City where an abandoned elevated spur of the New York Central Railroad became a park. A final example would be the Embarcadero in San Francisco where a 1989 earthquake provided a perfect opportunity to remove an ugly freeway.
My recent trip to western North Carolina was like the gift that kept on giving of Twelve Mile Circle article ideas. Sadly I’ve reached the end of the line on that thread so this will be the last article that contains a connection to that earlier adventure. As noted in a prior installment, I enjoyed walking around Asheville in the early morning before the town woke up. I discovered all sorts of interesting nooks as I wandered aimlessly down deserted streets. One was the Thomas Wolfe House on Spruce Street, included as part of the museum complex at 52 N. Market Street (map).
Thomas Wolfe Memorial (my own photo)
This inviting structure has been designated as the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site, the childhood home of the author. The Queen Anne style home served as a boardinghouse operated by Wolfe’s mother. He used it as a backdrop for his thinly veiled 1929 autobiographical novel, "Look Homeward, Angel." That distinction certainly made it a property worth preserving. It occurred to me that oftentimes a famous person’s adult home might be preserved while his or her childhood home might be neglected, with notable exceptions of course. Certainly preservation made sense here.
Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Properties by Missouri Division of Tourism (cc)
Another place where I thought preservation made sense was the Mark Twain Boyhood Home at 206-208 Hill Street, in Hannibal, Missouri (map). Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, drew upon his youthful memories from Hannibal for some of his novels. These included actual locations associated with people who inspired major fictional characters such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher.
That was all fine and appropriate. However I wanted to bring the concept into the present. I wondered if there were people of more recent vintage whose childhood homes might someday become national historic landmarks. Where would tourists flock and stand in line to walk through rooms where a notable person once lived as a child? The big one of course was Elvis Presley, and for him that distinction had already been achieved. I wrote about Elvis’ early childhood shotgun-shack in Tupelo, Mississippi in The Cult of Elvis back in 2009. After Elvis, then the next logical choice might have to be…
Michael Jackson first house by Paolo Rosa on Flicker (cc)
What would be a bigger Thriller than driving down to the corner of 23rd and Jackson Street in Gary, Indiana (map)? The Michael Jackson house probably stood a solid chance of becoming an historic landmark to rival anything from Elvis. It already seemed to be generating cult-like status barely five years after Jackson’s death judging by the numerous photos I saw on the Intertubes. Invariably images showed throngs of people, piles of tributes, a large granite marker and a generally celebratory environment courtesy of pilgrims and devotee that converged there.
Another question remained. Will tourists ever be able to visit Neverland Ranch like they can Graceland?
Kurt Cobain’s Childhood Home; Aberdeen, WA
via Google Street View, October 2012
I moved on to another music icon, albeit from a different genre. Kurt Cobain passed away at the height of success while fronting the band Nirvana, in 1994. One would think that his childhood home might attract the attention of some of his fans, and yet it didn’t seem to resonate much. The real estate website Redfin featured his mother’s property at 1210 East 1st St., Aberdeen, Washington (map) in August 2015, "Kurt Cobain’s Childhood Home Drops in Price, Again."
Kurt Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor, just shaved off $71,000 from the price of his childhood home, bringing the new price tag to $329,000… His bedroom, which looks like a converted attic, still has Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin logos that he stenciled on the walls, and holes from where he punched the walls as a teen.
It would seem to demonstrate great provenance and even some residual historic significance given the doodles and damage. It remained unsold as of a few days ago.
Sandra Bullock’s Childhood Home; Arlington, VA
via Google Street View, July 2014
A childhood home might have historical significance even if the celebrity who lived there happened to still be living, right? I selected Sandra Bullock solely because she lived fairly close to where I live today in Arlington, Virginia. In fact my children will someday attend the same high school that she attended during her formative years, Washington-Lee. Bullock spent most of her childhood at 2925 26th Street North in the Woodmont neighborhood (map). The Arlington County property search website valued the home at $1,241,900 for the 2015 tax year. It also noted that "Bullock John W & Helga M" purchased the property originally in 1966 for $40,000 (and it sold for $1,115,000 in 2005).
Kurt Cobain’s childhood home would be a lot more cost effective for, you know, creepy people who need to own one of those kinds of places.