BY DONATHAN SALKALN (CRDC Executive Committee) | Chelsea, what we know of it lately, is too often “Here today, gone this afternoon.” Vulnerable spaces are being turned into towers of luxury housing, chain stores, and high-end retail, with no regard to its past. Yet, this past year, a developer broke the mold. Gemini Rosemont, which was taking a wrecking ball to the Greenwich Savings Bank on the northwest corner of W. 14th St. and Sixth Ave., let inside local activists and a crew to save a 110-foot-wide by 9-foot-tall mural of significant historic and local value.
Gemini Rosemont paused demolition during their plan to build a high-rise of condos and retail—liability insurance be dammed! The canvas, called A Memory of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue, by renowned American painter Julien Binford (1908-1997), wrapped around the interior walls of the bank and captured street life of the late 1890s. It was a time of horses, carriages, fancy attire, and parades, back when the area wasn’t lined with the chains of Starbucks, Popeyes, Urban Outfitters, DQs, Foot Locker, Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, and Golden Crust—and horses weren’t banned from the streets.
The heroic group that saved the mural included Save Chelsea, the office of NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Jamestown, an investment and management company. Paul Groncki, Board Member Emeritus of Save Chelsea, convinced Michael Phillps, of Jamestown, to send a construction crew to remove the canvas, roll it up, and store it in the basement of Jamestown’s Chelsea Market. Jamestown has since sold Chelsea Market to Google, which plans to reconstruct Chelsea Market to a mammoth building and, therefore, needs the mural removed from their basement.
This convoluted fate of Julien Binford’s work of Chelsea Americana has come to raising $10,000 to clean it, interweave it with Tyvek, re-roll it, and then find it a new home.
Groncki shared his journey to save the mural at the April 28 general meeting of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club (CRDC), held at Chelsea’s Hudson Guild Elliott Center. He spoke of the search for a new home of artwork.
“We thought about the MTA tunnel between under 14th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.” Groncki said, recalling, “The MTA says, ‘You do not want to hang art on any of our properties. Trust Us.’ Groncki informed the group that the new Moynihan Train Hall, currently under construction, has expressed interest in hanging the art.
“Google is scheduling a time to make a digital image of the entire of the mural,” Groncki noted. “Hudson Guild has said that they will display it on their on-line art gallery.”
CRDC passed a resolution to be an official sponsor to save the Binford mural. Contributions can be made to Save Chelsea from its website, or you can mail checks to Save Chelsea, P.O. Box 1315, Old Chelsea Station, NY, NY 10113-1315 (noting this is for the Binford Mural). Note: This article originally appeared on the CRDC website and is being presented by Chelsea Community News, with CRDC and author permission.