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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mural art could brighten up Annandale's many blank walls

The back of Tous Les Jours and the side of Jiffy Lube seen from Columbia Pike.

Here’s something we have all over Annandale: lots and lots of blank walls. How about brightening up these boring empty spaces with murals?

Several towns have latched onto the mural idea to prop up a sagging economy and attract visitors. Ottawa, Ill.; Twenty Nine Palms, Calif., and Sherbrooke, Quebec, are among the dozens of communities worldwide that have used murals to illustrate their community’s history and culture.

Skyline Cellular on Maple Place, Annandale.
Richmond, Va., is in the midst of a major mural project, spearheaded by the Washington, D.C.-based Art Whino art collective, which is bolstering the city’s image as an art center. The goal of the Richmond Mural  Project is to create more than 100 murals by world-renowned artists from all over the world. Sixty have been completed so far.

The project’s mission is to establish Richmond as a landmark destination for art, increase tourism and bring in more foot traffic, which will help local businesses.

The side of the old Bloom store, as seen from Gallows Road.
One of the first “mural towns” is Chemainus, on Victoria Island in British Columbia. In the early 1980s, the town’s biggest employer, a lumber mill, was closing, stores were going out of business, and the downtown was getting shabby. A local shop owner proposed a revitalization effort featuring murals depicting scenes based on old photographs of the town, and the community got funds from the provincial government to get the project started. 

The side of the Western Union check-cashing store on Little River Turnpike.
“There were some store owners who thought it was a crazy idea,” says Jon Lefebure, who oversees Chemainus and other small towns as the mayor of the Municipality of North Cowichan.

An office building on Maple Place.
Once people realized how the murals could revitalize the town, they embraced the concept, he says. Chemainus started with one or two murals a year and now has 40, with scenes of the early logging industry, steam trains, an old general store, the culture of the First Nations, and the first white settlers.  

Antique Emporium on Little River Turnpike.
The murals put Chemainus, with just 5,000 residents, on the tourist map. Lefebure says hundreds of tour buses stop there every year. Business owners were inspired to spruce up their buildings, several art galleries and craft shops opened, and the town even has a thriving dinner theater now.

The side of Omni Financial on Little River Turnpike as seen from Ravensworth Road.
But while the murals have reversed the decline, “it’s not a solution for everything,” he says. “We still have our challenges retaining businesses.” And while the town isn’t adding new murals, it still has to budget funds to retain the existing ones as the wall surfaces deteriorate and the paint fades.

The Annandale ABC store as seen from the Giant parking lot.
Back to Annandale – We’ve got a community that’s not quite a destination, with many good restaurants, a fair number of vacant buildings, and lots of blank walls. Annandale actually used to be a top commercial center for Fairfax County, but in recent decades it’s been eclipsed by other communities – Tysons, Reston, and Merrifield, for example – that have attracted investments in redevelopment. Annandale will eventually bounce back, but in the meantime, wouldn’t it be more fun to walk or drive around Annandale if those blank walls were covered with art?

The side of a store on Little River Turnpike.
The Parrillas del Sur restaurant on Annandale Road seen from Little River Turnpike.


  1. This opens up Pandora's box. Reminds me of the incident in Arlington with Wag More Dogs and their mural. Which the federal court decided it was a sign for the building owner. What is to stop the building owner from turning the blank wall into a billboard. Crystal City smoke shop comes to mind with their mural of a gent with a cigar. The cigar was changed to a whale, since they don't sell whales.

    The Exxon at Braddock and Little River has a nice mural on the wall, but soon it will be a TD bank.

  2. Love the idea. Getting some spray paint now.

    Seriously, I love nice mural art/graffiti and think this is a great idea.

  3. This sounds like one of the ideas Molly is pitching on the campaign trail while she explains how she is going to clean-up Mason District and make it a better place to live by pushing out the "undesirables" and preventing any redevelopment by capitalistic Developers.

    Some say Mollie is tea party, but in fact she is a Bernie clone - against immigration and capitalism. A real loser.

    But she listens to people. Yeah right.

    1. VOTE Mollie for Mason! You can't even decide which party to insult her with. Get a life.

    2. @ 4:41 -You can't even spell her name right. Her website shows bi-partisan support and positive comments.

    3. @ 4:41 -
      My goodness Mollie is powerful and not even in office yet!

    4. Are you for real. Insults! Grow up!

  4. It really does open up a Pandora's box. If you give people free reign, then you have to live with it if a smoke shop wants a giant Che pic on the side of their wall or someone does a half-rear end job and it looks like a drunk child painted it.

    1. > a smoke shop with a giant Che mural

      Yes please. This is exactly what Annandale needs.

  5. The idea is that these murals would be commissioned works by artists, and not graffiti based on the whims of the store owner, or anyone with a spray can. Hopefully this 'commissioning' part of the project would deter undesirable commercialization of the murals.

    Sounds like a good idea to put Annandale on the map, by inviting art. Hope it takes off and sees the light of the day.

    A related question: why so many blank walls in the first place? It seems to me like a lot of these properties could use windows for natural lighting.

  6. I have a great idea for this.

    Artist must submit the planned art work to the newly created Board of Murals along with an application fee. It will then be reviewed by BoM with the Zoning board to make sure it is not advertising. If approved the building owner will have to apply for permits and submit fees to have permission and permits to have the walls painted.
    This is a great idea to beautify Annandale and raise revenue at the same time. Love it.

    1. I love th idea of the paiting being reviewed but do they really need all these fees and permits?

    2. How is a painting on a wall different from a sign. Here is what is required for a sign
      That would possibly have to modified for a mural.

  7. Murals may look nice if it's painted right, but niceness effect deteriorates rather quickly, what with dirt and other grim starts collecting on it. What's the maintenance plan for these murals? What if it attracts people to deface the mural, what then?
    And who gets to decide on the style of the art? I think many (thought not all) of the mural in Chemainus look beautiful, but I can't say I'd feel comfortable with the murals in Richmond, and I'm just one person. Sure, we can put it up to a community vote, but most people probably won't have anything to say about it until the paint is dried.
    If we're going to spend the time and money on beautification, I think windows and planters boxes be more effective and feel less urban...

  8. A commissioned or judged entries to paint murals is exciting and might work to make Annandale a destination and stimulate business and revenue. It is totally different from a sign because it is NOT a commercial. And, this would be a wonderful way to get Mason District artist’s involved and front and center.

    Businesses are an important source of tax revenue. Mason District is a parking lot for people and a pass through for travelers to other destinations. In the past 20 years no creative ideas have been advanced to stimulate business. And, government is competing with business and adding to the $179M deficit by building new government offices instead of utilizing the available and plentiful vacant office space in the county.

    Mural artwork in Annandale? Is this Mollie's idea? I love it!!!!

  9. This is a great idea! When you look at communities and cites who have done this, it has a very positive impact. Public art can have an enormous effect on bringing a community together. The Tucson Mural Art Project and the efforts going on in Philadelphia are great examples.
    It’s clear that some people might not understand the concept well enough. This would require structured implementation – It would be curated and planed. These types of projects aren’t about a bunch of kids form elementary school or an individual with a spray can. The Annandale business district needs an upgrade from the feeble, strip mall ridden, rumpled tar covered, payday loan and boxy big drug store chain loving eyesore that exists at the moment. This could set the Annandale business district apart from other suburban business districts. This could be a great next step for Annandale. We need this.

  10. I cannot think of any project that would make Annandale look like a slum any better than adding graffiti (murals) to our walls.
    That would surely get the attention of county planners who have been looking at us for one of their projects for many years.
    Think please..this is a very poor idea.

    1. The county planners just look, and go hmm where else can we improve that has a larger tax base. Annandale is a just a little town to keep all the lower income and undocumented people in one spot as not to upset the nimby folks in the other parts of the county. This way us less desirable people don't affect the nicer schools and neighborhoods. As much as I would love to see Annandale improve it has not done much in my short lifetime. Adding murals and graffiti in my opinion make towns look more like slums. You don't see any murals in Vienna, Tysons, Chantilly, etc. I like it here but I try to keep a glimmer of hope that things will get better.

    2. Yep, there are certainly no murals in Vienna, Tysons, or other nice places in VA...

      Gone now, but was there for 22 years...

      Crystal City...

      And several others. You all do realize there is a difference between art on the side of a building and someone doing a rattle can stencil of Che Guevara, right?

  11. One of the reasons I've heard for why it has been difficult to revitalize Annandale is that with many small individual land tracts, it is hard to consolidate into anything larger that a developer would be interested in. I wonder if having the art on some of these rather unremarkable buildings scattered around town would end up becoming an additional impediment to getting more of these properties consolidated.

  12. To: Adam Goldberg 9/21/15, 7:17 AM

    There ARE murals in Vienna. They are fun!

    Using juried artists (no graffiti), a project like this could put Annandale on the map.

    Think up!

    1. second sentence provided that same link bro.

  13. We are so lucky to still have untagged walls! Don't start something you will regret in the future. How many people like the tattoos they had done 5 years later?

    1. I stand by my "return to sender" I have across the small of my back.