Jamestown, Google Seek to Keep Binford Mural in Neighborhood; Hudson Guild Eyed as Potential Home

Seen here at its former home, Julien Binford’s 1950s mural — “A Memory of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue” — will be preserved, restored, and digitalized. | Photo by Christian Miles

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | The future of a 1950s piece of art, which was on the precipice of being lost, is brighter as Jamestown and Google announced they are teaming up to preserve it.

Late last year, preservationists rang the alarm that Julien Binford’s mural — “A Memory of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue” — was on the chopping block. The building that housed the mural — a former bank at the corner of W. 14th St. and Sixth Ave. — was slated for partial demolition to make way for condos and retail space.

Save Chelsea, a preservation group, sprang into the action, reaching out to then-Councilmember (now Speaker) Corey Johnson’s office. Jamestown, an investment and management firm that, at that time, owned Chelsea Market, and Google were contacted to see if they wanted to play a role in the mural’s preservation.

The effort bore fruit: Jamestown said it recently bought the mural from the developer, Gemini Rosemont, for $50,000, Michael Phillips, president of Jamestown, told Chelsea Now in a phone interview.

Phillips said it was an “involved process” to acquire the much-admired work of art. “We had a hard time getting into the building to see the mural,” he recalled.

Eventually, they got experts in to see if the mural, which hung on the bank’s lobby walls, could be salvaged. It is currently in storage, and it will be restored and digitalized, Phillips said.

“We have it and we are starting to figure out the next steps,” he said.

Those steps include finding a home for the mural, with Phillips saying they are considering the senior center at Hudson Guild. Jamestown has a long history with Hudson Guild and the Fulton Houses, he said.

“It’s our neighborhood,” Phillips said. “It would be unfortunate to see [the mural] move to another neighborhood — to leave the neighborhood it started in.”

Ken Jockers, executive director for Hudson Guild, said they had been approached to participate in the preservation effort, noting, “I said we would be happy to do that.”

The dimensions of the mural — it is 110 feet long — are a challenge to its placement and details are being worked out, Jockers said by phone. He noted that it is important to keep “this Chelsea public art in Chelsea and in the public.”

“This neighborhood has a really deep history with art and a lot of extraordinary work has been made in this neighborhood,” he said. “This was a lovely monumental artwork and if there was any way for it to stay here, it is a great way to respect the tradition of art in our neighborhood, in this part of the city.”

If the mural does find a home at Hudson Guild, Phillips said it would be donated to the nonprofit. He noted the effort of Johnson’s office, Save Chelsea, and Hudson Guild.

“Our goal at the moment — between those two organizations — is to install the mural in a public place,” he said. “Save Chelsea stayed every step of the process with us.”

Paul Groncki, a board member of Hudson Guild and chair of the 100 West 16th Street Block Association, wondered if Hudson Guild would be able to accommodate the sprawling mural — and floated two other possible scenarios.

“Somewhere close to 14th St. and available to the public would be best,” Groncki said in an email to Chelsea Now. “One idea, unfortunately not close to 14th St., but in Chelsea, would be the south wall of the Morgan Mail Facility on the north side of W. 28th St., between Ninth and 10th Aves.”

That wall, currently blank, faces Chelsea Park. “The challenges,” Groncki acknowledged, “would be getting the Post Office to agree, and the technology to protect the mural in an outside environment. I mentioned this to [Special Assistant] Robert Atterbury in Congressman Nadler’s office, and he said he would look into it.”

Anticipating the mural’s eventual public display, Jamestown has been in touch with Binford’s great nephew to learn more about the Virginia native (who died in 1997), his history, and his work.

“Our hope is to tie it together more thoroughly,” Phillips said, noting when the mural was displayed at the bank, no information was provided about the artwork or artist.

The mural is thought to have been painted in 1954 for what was then the Greenwich Savings Bank and depicts what preservationists have said is a late 1800s scene of the area.

In an emailed statement, Johnson called Binford’s mural “an icon of Chelsea’s history. When my office learned late last year of plans to demolish the mural’s home, I immediately joined Save Chelsea in working toward the preservation of this work of historical art.”

Google is thrilled to partner with Jamestown to help preserve the mural, Carley Graham Garcia, head of external affairs for Google NYC, noted in an emailed statement.

“It’s an iconic centerpiece of the Chelsea neighborhood that residents, visitors and art enthusiasts alike should be able to enjoy for years to come,” she said. “We look forward to working together to find it an appropriate home within the local neighborhood.”

Recently, the tech giant has made major moves in the neighborhood, purchasing Chelsea Market for over $2 billion from Jamestown in early February, and bumping up its square footage at Pier 57 (as Chelsea Now reported last week).

Gemini Rosemont declined to comment for this article, referring questions to Jamestown. Save Chelsea declined to comment, citing a lack of available information at press time.

When asked if Hudson Guild had ever fielded an offer quite like the Binford mural before, Jockers, who has been with the organization for 10 years, said with a laugh, “Nobody has donated a 100-foot piece to Hudson Guild before — this I’m certain.”

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