Wednesday, April 1, 2015

DeGrazia Vs. the Wrecking Ball

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 4:00 PM

The New York Times examines how a developer is destroying murals painted by Ted DeGrazia in downtown Phoenix:

The 65-year-old mural, a tribute to alcohol, depicted guards armed with shotguns overseeing a still; women hovering like ghosts, a glass in each hand; and a dancer with one leg raised high, bloomers in full view. Even to the best-trained eye, it did not look like much. But the work represented a rare link to its creator, Ted DeGrazia, a wildly prolific artist born when Arizona was just a territory, whose career followed a trajectory that in many ways paralleled the ascent of the region that served as his muse.

Just as Mr. DeGrazia’s legacy faded after his death in 1982, the mural, along with a smaller one in the same building, was largely ignored for years. But the murals began to draw attention recently when the building was condemned to make way for new construction. The developer plans to turn the site into a luxury apartment complex, loaded with amenities like a fitness center, a pool and rooftop decks with sweeping views to entice the millennials who have been flocking to the city’s downtown.

In the district here known as Roosevelt Row, an eclectic enclave where neglected warehouses have been transformed into art galleries and bungalows into bookshops, this shoe box of a building, adorned with a trio of colorful birds on an outer wall, long fit right in. Threatened with its loss, longtime residents mobilized, determined to keep out what they saw as an outside business trying to capitalize on their neighborhood’s homegrown appeal.

The building, which served over the years as one of the city’s first drag clubs and years later as the headquarters for a mayor’s re-election campaigns, was an artifact well worth saving, said Bob Diehl, a neighborhood resident who started a petition to block demolition.

“We have to stop destroying history in order to put up boring stuff,” Mr. Diehl said. “We’re replacing interesting, funky urban stuff with dead sidewalks.”

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