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A Look Back at the Frankford Mural Arts Project

September 13th, marked the formal completion of the Frankford murals project.  There was a symbolic ribbon cutting in Womrath Park on that day with many of the people present who made the project a reality.  It all started at the instigation of Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez almost two years ago.

At the initial community meeting on October 5th 2011, at Denby’s Café and Bakery on Frankford Avenue, there was enthusiasm mixed with skepticism. Community residents were excited about something positive coming to Frankford but could not quite picture how it was going to work out.

IMG_3915 webOver the course of the next few months, project manager Netanel Poitier and muralist Cesar Viveros, made presentations at every community group meeting.  They talked about the project  but mostly they listened to residents’ concerns, hopes, fears and vision for Frankford.

Over 50 interviews with residents were conducted and recorded on video which are available at The muralist, Cesar Viveros, impressed residents with his dedication to listening to their stories.  Those stories became concepts to be incorporated into the Murals.  (Those videos are a valuable resource for future historians who will look back at Frankford at this critical turning point.  They will be turned over to the Frankford Historical Society for storage in their archive.)

At each stage of the planning process, concepts for the murals were presented at community meetings.  The ideas evolved and developed as Cesar listened and learned more about Frankford’s rich history and culture.  Residents gave feedback and those ideas were then incorporated into the next stages of the design.  Final designs were then approved by the community members and the mural arts committee.

The actual process of creating a mural is fascinating.  When the final design was approved, Cesar then would begin the painting.  The image is first projected onto a large piece of sail cloth.  He then painstakingly outlined the image in pencil and coded the colors that would go into each segment.  A mural may in fact be composed of as many as 20 of those panels.

Community residents were then invited to come to a painting event to actually paint the murals. As many as 30 people spent hours bent over tables at 2nd Baptist and St. Mark’s Churches applying the paint to the panels.

At the same time, the wall had to be prepared and in some cases repaired, to receive the panels.  Then the job of applying the panels to the wall would find Cesar and his assistants on a lift 30 feet off the ground.  The panels were affixed to the wall and then the final job of matching each panel up with its neighbor began and making those many individual pieces into one very large image.  That process took several weeks for the large murals.

The result is a group of murals surrounding Womrath Park (4100 block of Kensington Ave. and 4200 block of Frankford Ave.) and a single large mural a few block north at St. Mark’s Church at 4435 Frankford Ave.

Womrath Park sits at the southern boundary of Frankford and is a gateway to the community.  The murals at that location now offer an introduction to the area for visitors as well as a focal point for future community events.

All of the murals are visible from the ground and also from the Frankford El.  Since many people never see Frankford up close, visibility of the murals from the El was considered highly desirable.

The project’s themes of History, Potential, Pride, Community and Family came directly from the resident interviews conducted in the beginning.  Each mural reflects in some way, one or more of those themes.

The murals have now moved from possibility to reality and have become part of the neighborhood.  The success of the project may be measured by resident’s comments when they look up at them.  They see people and try to identify them.  Scenes portray a time much different than present day and some may not realize that there once was a vital textile industry in Frankford. Soldiers march in formation and other people do not know that George Washington marched his troops to a victory at Lexington down what was the King’s Highway which is now called Frankford Avenue.  A young shooting victim is memorialized in his football uniform.  Butch Ballard, a great jazz drummer from Frankford looks down.  Al Angelo, legendary Frankford High School football coach stands together with Billy Gambrel, namesake of Gambrel Recreation Center.  Many community residents are portrayed in the context of the present day.  There may even be one of the Continental troops who strongly resembles a local historian.

The murals teach the past and give hope for the future.  They have become a source of pride and also educational opportunities that have made people think about where they live in a different way.   The mural arts project may well have been a transformative event for Frankford.

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Overington Park 50 Years Later

gene and marion perri

Gene and Marion Perri

It was only a half century ago that teenaged Gene Perri sat on the stone wall on Leiper Street that surrounds Overington Park and first met Marion Ridge.  He says he was cleaning his shoe which must have made quite an impression on Marion.  They have now been married 47 years.

They thought it might be interesting to return to the place they first met on the 50th anniversary of that day.   They had some concerns, having not been back to Frankford in quite a long time but they decided to go for it and walked into Overington Park on Saturday, September 28th.

They happened to come on one of the best days of the year for the Park. The Art Under the Trees event sponsored by the Friends of Overington Park brought out a great crowd of families and the weather was beautiful.

Their Frankford roots go back generations.  Gene’s family had a candy store at Penn and Sellers. Marion’s grandfather owned one of the first Unity-Frankford grocery stores on Arrott Street. They now have two grown children, Dawn and Gene Jr.  and four grandchildren; Jessica, Michael, Eric and Samantha.

It was good to have them back in the neighborhood.  Anyone who recognizes them and would like to get back in touch, contact the Gazette and we’ll pass on your information.


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Waving Trees to Rainbows Below

On Saturday, September 28th, the Friends of Overington Park had their annual “Art Under The Trees” event. This year, the president of the organization, Diane Kunze, decided to use master works from Andy Warhol’ pop collection to inspire the artists. The children and young adults got to pick which picture inspired them to chalk beautiful works of art onto the blacktop.

The chalk designs that the artists produced were magnificent with vibrant colors, and the creators wore those Crayola chalk sticks down to dust. This contest had four age catagories: 6 and under, 7-10, 11-15, and 16-19. From what I observed, the judges had a tough time picking a winner from the beautiful displays of art that covered the ground. One winner was picked from each age category and received a sketch book, art supplies, and a certificate of congratulations.

Congratulations go out to:

  • Amyia Topping (6 and under)
  • Alivia Miller ((7-10)
  • Christian Joyce & Gavin Hopkins (11-15)
  • George & Tyreek (16-19)

Along with the contest, they had a craft table with handmade crafts designed & crafted by Jennifer Mohr. This table was staffed by the artist herself and Lorraine Fortino.

Meals-on-Wheels receivers had a special treat put in their lunches. The children of Frankford produced beautiful works of art on paper using Crayola crayons and their imaginations which were to put in everyone’s lunch following this event. This part of the event was created by Lisa Handy.

Thanks go out to Carlos Correa and Noah Gibson of the Jr. R.O.T.C. of Frankford High School for volunteering their time to organize and distribute the art supplies, contestant sign-ups, and giving out pretzels to the crowd. The instructor of the Jr. R.O.T.C., Joe Fraioli, made an appearance to say hello and thank you to his men staffing the table.

What a wonderful day it was with cool temperatures, sunny skies, and a love for art under the long living tree’s of Overington Park.  Special thanks from the Friends of Overington Park go out to all the people who help & volunteer their time to make all their events possible; Nona Bloom, John Neugebauer, Maryanne Seifert, Linda Heywood, Jr. R.O.T.C., Janet Bernstein & Frankford Garden Club, and this is just to name of few THANK YOU.

Come out for some other events happening in Overington Park: November (Love your park clean-up) & December (Caroling in the park). Please see the Frankford Gazette website for dates, times, and other events happening in your Frankford community. Keep the Frankford spirit alive and get involved with the fun!

For more information on Friends of Overington Park go to their Facebook page at: Friends of Overington Park
Inquires and contributions can be sent or obtained at:

Friends of Overington Park
1344 Overington Park
Philadelphia, PA 19124

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Destination Frankford

Destination Frankford, all aboard.DF Logo_RGB-white

It all started with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC).  I attended all of the meetings last year during the planning process for the Lower Northeast District Plan, a component of Philadelphia2035.  The first thing I noticed was that Ian Litwin, the head planner, was actually saying good things about Frankford.  The emphasis was on the strengths of the community and seeing Frankford through new eyes gave me hope that something might come of it.

After the plan was adopted, an application was made to Artplace for a grant to begin implementing some of the concepts.   The grant came through and we are now about to see some results.  Destination Frankford will create a vibrant public space in Womrath Park, artfully designed signage and street furniture, a storefront dedicated to local artists, and an arts-focused marketing campaign.

The project will increase exposure to Frankford’s growing arts scene, add vibrancy to Frankford’s commercial corridor, and attract new artists, businesses, and residents to Frankford.

It sound ambitious and it is but remarkably it is a reality.  We are proud to be partners in this project and will be working on stories that highlight the arts, artists and artisans in Frankford.

You can read all about it on the Destination Frankford web site at this link.


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Dedication of the Frankford Murals

Mural Dedication: Imagining Frankford

Friday, September 13

Womrath Park

Frankford & Kensington Avenues

12 – 2 p.m.

Join City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, the Mural Arts Program, muralist Cesar Viveros, neighborhood youth, and community members-turned-storytellers, for the dedication of the Imagining Frankford mural series. Partner organization the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) will be on hand to showcase the rain garden in Womrath Park, created as part of Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters plan.