Germantown mural captures the spirit of the neighborhood [entry-title permalink="0"] By and

The “Germantown” logo, a testament to racial harmony in Germantown, was made famous by Asher’s Chocolates, the national candy company that was based in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood for more than 102 years.

In 1998, the multi-million dollar firm, which employed more than 100 workers, moved to the Philadelphia suburbs. But its logo now lives on atop a colorful mural that graces a building at 310 West Chelten Ave.

“Building Germantown” it’s called. A mural that represents the people of Germantown, their traditions, and their neighborhood.

Some Germantown residents may even be lucky enough to find themselves on it.

Located near Chelten and Wissahickon avenues, “Building Germantown” sits alongside state Rep. Rosita Youngblood’s 198th District office, greeting visitors and residents alike as they head into the heart of one of the most historic neighborhoods in the United States.

“It turned out pretty well,” said Jon Laidacker, an independent contractor with Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program and the lead painter on the mural.

A hodgepodge of four or five different ideas, as Laidacker describes it, the three-story tall piece of art, designed with the help of nearly 60 residents of Germantown, displays small images along the north end, followed by three men working with an industrial lift to paint the Germantown logo onto the wall.

Building Germantown

The mural is designed to appear as a painting within a painting

Next to that, on the largest section of the wall, admirers notice a large archway with a road splitting the image in half; buildings on one side, and trees on the other. A man on a small platform, one of Laidacker’s assistants on the project, Charlie Newman, appears to be painting the image onto the wall.

“It’s meant to look like a painting within a painting,” said Laidacker. “You can even see how it sort of compartmentalized into a couple different sections.”

Way back in the fall of 2011, the Mural Arts Program enlisted Laidacker to head up the project under strong recommendation from Ken Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner, who was a fan of Laidacker’s previous work, especially that in the Germantown/Mt. Airy section. Weinstein and property owner Stan Smith were a primary funders of the project, estimated to cost upwards of $45,000. Project managers of the mural were Cathy Harris and William Pace, and sponsors included the city of Philadelphia and the Elizabeth B. and Arthur E. Roswell Foundation.

The work for the mural began immediately, starting with meetings open to all members of the community held in Germantown, on Chelten Ave.

Although the turnout was not as strong as Laidacker would have liked, those who did participate were excited to be a part of the mural’s development.

It took nearly two years for the mural to be completed at 310 W. Chelten

It took nearly two years for the mural to be completed at 310 W. Chelten

At the meetings, everyone provided input on the mural’s appearance, either by drawing their ideas out on paper with colored pencils, or aloud.

“‘Look at all this!’” some said as they arrived with binders full of ideas.

“Mural Arts is really good that way,” said Arleen Olshan, co-founder of the Mt. Airy Art Garage. “They do try to hear the community and respond with the interests that the community has in seeing what’s up on the walls.”

The drawing sessions were only the beginning of the process. Once Laidacker received the drawings from the community, he had to incorporate them into a large design.

“After all that was done, I just started going to the design process, which can be labor intensive,” he said. “There was still a lot of hand-painting the design in the studio which is a lot of man hours. And then, especially if you go through an initial design review and they don’t like it, you’re back to the drawing board – literally. . . What’s on the wall is the third or fourth iteration of the design.”

Once the design was finalized, it was drawn onto parachute cloth made of a polyester fiber and primed with acrylic. Finally, it was ready to be painted.

The Mt. Airy Art Garage played a significant role in the next phase of the mural. MAAG, a community-based, non-profit, arts center, is a member organization of artists and art-lovers located at 11 W. Mt. Airy Avenue (though that address will be changing later in 2016), intended for the connection, collaboration, and exhibition of Northwest Philadelphia artists, according to Olshan.

Mt. Airy Art Garage

The Mt. Airy Art Garage served as a paint site for community members assisting with the mural.

Founded by Olshan and current president Linda Slodki and relatively new at the time, MAAG served as a paint site for the mural. Open to the public, the studio allowed people of all experience levels to help bring the mural to life. All paint was pre-mixed and labeled with numbers corresponding to specific sections on the mural in a paint-by-numbers fashion.

Because the Art Garage was still in its infancy, the studio had yet to install any walls within the building, and was still using portable toilets, so plenty of space was available. Families and their children came on Saturdays throughout the fall and winter to help paint the larger sections of the mural that weren’t too detailed. Laidacker, the lead painter, handled all of the finite and realistic depictions.

Jonathan Laidacker was the lead artist for "Building Germantown." Laidacker is currently working on another mural for the Mural Arts Program

Jonathan Laidacker was the lead artist for “Building Germantown.” Laidacker is currently working on another mural for the Mural Arts Program

By the summer of 2013, the mural was on for display on Chelten Ave., and a party was held for the unveiling. Many of those who helped out were surprised by the final result.

“Unbeknownst to us, Jon painted us into the mural, so we’re on the wall as well,” said Olshan. “Which is really very nice.”

The appearance of some familiar faces caught some people, like Olshan, off guard. Stan Smith also makes an appearance in the mural (center of the road under the archway), as does Laidacker. Laidacker took pictures of people, added figures, and painted them directly on as he went along.

“Everything stays pretty fluid with me,” he said. “I change things a lot on a whim.”

On the south side of the mural is a smaller archway with animated characters and beyond that are panels with the faces of those past and present in Germantown. Admirers of the mural will also notice rain barrels decorated by MAAG hanging across the parking lot, facing the mural.

Those who wish to view the mural in person can take the Chestnut Hill West line to Chelten Avenue or one of SEPTA’s J or 26 bus routes.