The design for a commercial development planned for a vacant lot in NoHo will keep passersby from seeing a 20-year-old mural depicting the Creation of Adam on the side of a adjacent building, a piece of art that long-term residents consider an important part of the neighborhood.
The issue was recently brought to the attention of Manhattan Community Board 2 by local resident and artist Bruce Williams, who wants to ensure the one story extension to the new building "doesn't obscure [the mural]...it's a major part of the neighborhood."
The design is for a six-story commercial development at the currently-vacant 363 Lafayette Street. It's undergone three changes since its initial design proposal (see below) in order accommodate the residents of 20 Bond Street, which hosts the mural.
"It's a landmark thing, and it really does talk about the nature of the neighborhood as it was before," Williams said. "Then, only artists could live there. It's one of the few remaining traces of the area being for artists."
Williams is not the only Bond Street resident to feel that way about the mural. A resident who has lived at 20 Bond Street since 1979 and declined to give his name so as not to cause conflict with the developers said, "It's not just one person, it's certainly everybody in the building. There was a time when it was pretty loose and pretty interesting. We're just trying to save a little piece of it."
"It was up there and it was there for everybody and it became, in its own way without any promotion, something people were taken with," said Peter Voletsky, president of 20 Bond Street Coop.
According to Tom Lewis, architect of the new development, the new building will not block the mural, but it will "visually obstruct" it. Apparently, there's a difference.
"If you were standing level with the mural you would see it just fine. [The building] would block the view of it from Lafayette Street," said Lewis.
The mural is approximately 15 feet above street level, so to be level with it you'd either have to be floating in mid-air or live on a parallel floor in the building across the street.
The mural was painted by artist Diane Rosen when she lived at 20 Bond Street. Rosen now resides in Nyack, where she has a studio. She said that when she created the piece in 1993, she intended for it to be seen.
"To do some kind of art visible to the entire community, I just wanted something that would be a piece of street art everybody would enjoy and would make a statement about art in New York," Rosen said.
If the development at 363 Lafayette Street goes ahead, the "everybody" Rosen intended will be restricted just to the people who live in the building across the street.
Though the mural is quite worn today, a close look shows that Rosen painted the figures in the Creation of Adam as black. The statement she was trying to make was that history tends to be told from a white perspective, a message that still resonates today.
"The world is larger than just a white person's view," Rosen said. "We don't know the true authentic skin tones. If you want to cast the major players, God and Jesus, who's to say they're white?"
The process of developing the currently vacant lot has not gone seamlessly. The lot is owned by Olmstead Properties and CBSK Ironstate Development Company leased the property for 49 years. The most famous resident of 20 Bond Street, artist Chuck Close, has a studio on the first floor, and threatened to file a lawsuit after seeing that the first design for the new development would block the light from his studio windows. That original design would also have blocked all of the western facing windows at 20 Bond Street. In the new design, only one story will be built along the side of 20 Bond Street, no longer blocking the windows but instead obstructing the view of the mural.
Though many long-term residents in the area see the value of the mural, some don't, and would like to see development move along.
"You get up close to it and it looks like somebody was mocking Leonardo Da Vinci's Sistine Chapel. It's not very good. It's not in good shape," said Zella Jones, founder of NoHoManhattan.org, incorrectly citing the artist as Da Vinci when it was in fact Michelangelo. "It's a lack of authenticity. I am totally unaware of an artist that's associated their name with the goddamn thing."
According to Voletsky (who is married to Rosen), the mural is painted on wood rather than directly on the building, so it can be moved. Voletsky asserts that it will be moved, though he's made no plans for it yet and doesn't know if 20 Bond Street residents will foot the cost and make the arrangements.
"I can't tell you what it's going to cost," Voletsky said. "I haven't even begun to think about it."
Rosen's name is not on the mural, though she usually hears through the grapevine when it receives recognition. Voletsky and Rosen said it was on the cover of the brochure for the 2006 New Yorker Festival. A large photograph of the mural is also on display at Prodigy Coffee in the West Village.
"I wasn't thinking of self promotion; if I'd put my name I'd get a credit," said Rosen. "It doesn't matter because it keeps popping up with a life of its own."