Tall, colorful mural coming to side of Corner building

After next spring, people traveling east through The Corner toward West Main Street will be greeted by a six-story-tall mural inspired by one of Rita Dove’s poems.

“We’re very excited about this project,” said Ross McDermott, director of the Charlottesville Mural Project. “It’s our biggest one to date.”

Earlier this week, the city’s Board of Architectural Review unanimously approved the public artwork, which will be painted on the side of the Graduate Hotel at 1309 W. Main St.

The Charlottesville Mural Project is working with New City Arts on the work, which is part of the Paint + Poetry Mural Series.

“This is the third in a series of murals where we’ve partnered poets with visual artists,” McDermott said. “One is at Starr Hill Brewery and the second is at Charlottesville High School.”

The Board of Architectural Review was consulted because the property is within the West Main Architectural Design Control District.

The Graduate Hotel, formerly the Red Roof Inn, was built in 1966 as a Howard Johnson’s. The mural is to be painted on a gray brick façade that faces west.

“The mural will incorporate and be informed by one of Rita Dove’s poems, ‘Testimonial,’” said Mary Joy Scala, the city’s historic planner.

Dove, an English professor at the University of Virginia, is a former U.S. and Virginia poet laureate.

A line from the poem — “The world called, and I answered” — will be written on the mural. The full text of the poem will be hand-painted at ground level on the south side of the building on University Avenue.

“I think it’s beautiful and the building is already anachronistic to the university,” said Carl Schwarz, an architect who serves on the BAR. “It has a really good sentiment with the university, so I find it completely appropriate in that sense.”

The large painting by David Guinn will be the latest Charlottesville Mural Project, which is seeking to convert many of the community’s empty walls into lasting works of art.

The mural will appear to be within a frame, so it will not quite take up the entire wall.

In 2012, a colorful and angular design by Charlottesville artist Matt Pamer at 513 W. Main was toned down at the panel’s request because that structure is considered historic.

However, this time around the board enthusiastically supported the proposal and asked for no changes.

“This isn’t like the previous one where you couldn’t tell the outline of the [historic] building anymore because of the geometry of it,” said BAR member Tim Mohr. “This one is more about enlivening a building.”

Last year, the BAR approved a mural on Market Street that features the silhouettes of several bicyclists.

One concern with the latest proposed mural, though, was whether it would be visible from one of the community’s two World Heritage sites.

“A mural in this location facing University Avenue would be highly visible to passing traffic and pedestrians and would be visible from the Rotunda and the Lawn area,” Scala said.

McDermott handed out photographs of the site taken in winter from various locations in and around the Rotunda.

“I’m fairly certain that even in winter from the Rotunda … I don’t think you’ll be able to see through the mass of trees to the wall,” McDermott said.

BAR member and planning commissioner Kurt Keesecker said he visited the site to see what he could see.

There’s a couple of glimpses through trees from the West Range where you can maybe catch a glimpse of it, but you can also catch a glimpse of all the rooftop [HVAC] units at the hospital,” Keesecker said.

Mohr said he likes the size and scale of the building and called the design “beautiful.”

“It sort of marks that neighborhood quite well,” Mohr said.

McDermott said the wall will be painted by Guinn next spring and should take about a month to complete. However, the text of the full poem may be written on the building this fall to promote the project.