You know the mural: the imposing former Philadelphia 76er Julius Erving—aka Dr. J—standing in his cream-colored suit, hand in his pocket, relaxed in his knowledge that from 1976 to 1987, he imbued the Sixers with acrobatic, All-Star greatness. The mural was created in 1990 by L.A.-based muralist Kent Twitchell as part of the Mural Arts Program's Albert M. Greenfield African-American Iconic Images Collection.
In an interview for the collection's website, muralist Twitchell told Vai Sikahema that he painted Erving in the suit and snakeskin shoes to do something different from the typical athlete portrayals. "I wanted to paint him as an honorable, dignified man," he said. Twitchell was impressed by way the community and the city respects its murals. In Southern California, Twitchell said, his murals disappear behind layers of tagging and nothing gets done. "Philadelphia doesn't let that happen," he said.
UPDATE: We asked the Mural Arts Program's guiding light, Jane Golden, what she thinks about the sale of the Dr. J building.
"When we started [the mural] everyone said, that wall will be covered with graffiti and the kids you are working with will just get in trouble again. Now all these years later, to me, that wall is not just a painting on a wall but a powerful reminder of how art can help catalyze change in communities and in young lives."
It's an inspiration, she says, which is why she'll work hard with the new owner to see if the mural can be kept on the building. If not, she says, the program will try to raise funds to bring Twitchell back to Philly to redo the mural somewhere else.
"Our staff is already on it," she says. "We are like detectives on a mission (I had a spy club when I was little—good practice) to preserve an image that has come to symbolize potential and aspiration."
We are picturing little Jane with a magnifying glass and Sherlock hat. Very cute.
The building is zoned commercial, needs rehab and is for sale for $319,000.
· 1219 Ridge Avenue [Northpoint Real Estate]