Whale of a situation: Real estate project hiding iconic marine-life mural at Boston facility

June 13, 2014 0
Whale of a situation: Real estate project hiding iconic marine-life mural at Boston facilityConstruction already is obscuring views of the Planet Self Storage whales mural.

For years, Jamie Brown has found it easy to give customers directions to her Planet Self Storage facility in Boston’s South End.

“I’ll say to them, ‘Hey, we’re the place with the huge killer-whales mural on the side of the building,” said Brown, manager of the eight-story Planet Self Storage complex at 33 Traveler St. “People always knew what you were talking about.”

Brown soon will have to come up with another way to give directions.

Because of a two-building development going up next to Planet Self Storage, the landmark “Killer Whales Mural,” on the east-side metal exterior of the facility, now is mostly obscured by iron beams and other construction materials. Less than half of the mural can be seen from nearby Interstate 93, the heavily trafficked north-south highway in and out of downtown Boston.

Boston whale mural

The whales mural has been a Boston landmark since the late 1990s.

‘It’s a Little Sad’
Since the late 1990s, the colorful art of three frolicking killer whales has been an iconic landmark for neighborhood residents and Boston motorists. Before that, a giant humpback-whales mural that also was incredibly popular graced the exterior of the same storage facility.

But now only southbound motorists will be able to see the aquatic wonder—and only half of it for just a few seconds while driving on I-93. For northbound motorists, the new nine-story and 18-story buildings will block the mural.

“It’s a little sad,” said Bryce Greffe, managing partner of Planet Self Storage LLC, which has 15 facilities in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “The mural has been a landmark for so long.”

Mural Will Stay Put
But there’s a business plus to the urban-art setback: The new $185 million development going up next to Planet Self Storage will include 380 apartment units by the time it’s completed next year. Two nearby projects will add another 500 apartment units to the booming area of Boston’s South End.

Boston whale murals

The mural will remain, despite the presence of two real estate developments next door.

“That’s going to be good for my business,” said Greffe, noting that 90 percent of his tenants are residents who live within walking distance of the 35,000-square-foot Traveler Street facility.

Greffe said he has “no intention whatsoever” of removing the killer-whales mural, even though many motorists no longer will be able to see it. “It’s been a landmark, and we have no desire to lose that landmark,” he said.

‘Whaling Walls’
The mural’s history can be traced to the early 1990s, when Robert Wyland, an artist known for his marine-life art, was commissioned to paint a mural of humpback whales on the side of the Traveler Street building.

The urban art was part of Wyland’s series of “Whaling Walls” murals on the exteriors of buildings across the country, and in Australia, Canada, France and Japan. (Photos of the murals can be seen at www.wylandfoundation.org.)

In 1996, Bryce’s company bought the Traveler Street building and concluded it would need extensive renovation, especially its windows and crumbling brick exterior. Instead, the company decided to line the exterior with metal siding, a move that would cover up Wyland’s whale art.

Boston South End

This is an artist’s rendering of the buildings going up next to Planet Self Storage.

Greffe said his company asked Wyland to paint a new mural after the renovations, but he declined. So Rhode Island artist Ron Deziel was commissioned to paint a new marine-life mural, and he came up with the idea of killer whales.

“We had a lot of media attention surrounding that,” Greffe said. “People would constantly ask, ‘When’s the new mural going to be done? How much longer?’”

A Massachusetts state trooper once quipped that Deziel’s ongoing mural work was causing traffic accidents along I-93, as motorists craned their necks sideways to glimpse the painting’s progress, Greffe said.

iPhone Invasion
Finished in 1997, the killer-whales art was temporarily covered several years ago by huge Apple ads for iPods, iPhone and other electronics products. “It was too good of an offer to turn down,” Greffe said of the Apple ads.

The Apple banners were removed in 2009, revealing once again the familiar killer-whales mural.

Now, most of the mural will be obscured once again, this time by new apartment units and ground-floor retail space that can’t easily be taken down like Apple banners.

“But the killer whales are not going anywhere,” said Brown, the Planet Self Storage manager. “They’ll still be there. They just won’t be seen by as many people.”

Top three photos by Jay Fitzgerald

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