Colorado artist Jerry Jaramillo was devastated when he found out that his mural, "Primavera," had been sandblasted and removed from a brick wall at the corner of 41st Avenue and Tejon Street in Sunnyside, where it had been for more than thirty years. "It felt like I lost a child or something," he says. "I was single and didn't have any kids at the time I painted it; every time I did a mural, it seemed like my child. So it felt like a loss to me, because it was one of my favorite murals I had done in Denver."
The mural depicted a conga player whose song flowed into the air, first becoming a musical wind full of flowers and eventually spreading across the wall and transforming into a beautiful woman floating above fields of chile peppers. It was a familiar sight to anyone who had some history in the neighborhood, but it won't be part of the future.
Earlier this year, Servicios de la Raza, which owned the building, sold it to developer Paul Tamburello and business partner Jack Pottle, who are planning to restore the turn-of-the-century structure to its original state, a process that meant removing the mural, which had been partially painted onto a 1970s-era addition to the building.
That addition was completed while the building was occupied by Servicios. Funded by a 1970s-era grant from the Nixon Administration, Servicios began as a Chicano-focused mental-health agency and has since added other programs, such as emergency services, youth programs, domestic-violence resources and more to assist underserved, GLBTQ and immigrant populations in Denver. This week, the organization will move to a more central location in order to better serve those groups.
But Servicios executive director Rudy Gonzales says this isn't a simple case of an overzealous developer discarding a neighborhood's past in order to make way for a new and very different demographic. After looking long and hard at other offers, he believes that Tamburello and Pottle will work hard to retain the neighborhood's spirit.
"We sat down with Paul and Jack and [City Councilwoman] Judy Montero and some of our clients who are community members in the neighborhood to talk about the building being sold," says Gonzales. "Judy and I were concerned about the murals -- but the thing that Jack and Paul did was take the time to really listen to us."
Tamburello and Pottle are both Denver natives who have been instrumental in changing the face of some blocks and neighborhoods on the north side. Some of those projects have included the development or redevelopment of hip spots like Linger and Root Down, both in Lower Highland, as well as the purchase of the old Lehrer's greenhouse, which got nonprofit urban farm GrowHaus off the ground. But in an area where multimillion-dollar condos are popping up everywhere, the effect of such development is a growing concern for many longtime residents.
"We were thoughtful about this; we really weighed out the community impact of removing the mural over what kind of impact it could have in getting a tenant in the location," says Tamburello. And although he, Gonzales and the others discussed the building's future and the mural at length, Tamburello regrets the fact that he didn't involve Jaramillo in the process. Ultimately, "Primavera" had to go, but Tamburello stresses that it was not without a lot of thought and planning.
And although it is gone, Jaramillo's work won't be forgotten. At Gonzales's request, Tamburello photographed "Primavera" and a companion mural, "Mother Earth," which is still on the side of another Servicios building across Tejon. He hopes to hang those photos at the new Servicios location, at 3131 West 14th Avenue -- a spot close to the Denver Public Library's Rudolfo "Corky" Gonzales branch (named after Rudy's influential Chicano activist father), which is slated to open in 2015. He'd also like to one day hire Jaramillo to paint another mural inside the new Servicios home.
Tamburello adds that he is a fan of both public art and public discourse and had no intention of destroying anything. "We want to be an asset to the community; we want whatever we do there to be of further service to the community," he says. "We make tough decisions. Was it the right one to remove that mural? I don't know for sure. I know that we didn't just buy the building and start tearing it up."
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