Damage to 100-year-old mural stops Curtis Center construction

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The City of Philadelphia has shut down the big construction and renovation project inside the Curtis Center on Washington Square. (WPVI)

The City of Philadelphia has shut down the big construction and renovation project inside the Curtis Center on Washington Square.

This is all about the 100-year-old Dream Garden mural in the building's lobby.

From a distance it's other worldly colors dominate the Curtis Lobby; its 100,000 pieces of Tiffany glass attract admirers.

"It is just spectacular visually," Kevin Sullivan of Toronto, Canada said.

Sullivan and his family were visiting the city to take in the century old mural.

But last week, a construction mishap elsewhere in the building caused structural damage that is now covered with special stabilizing material.

"It's a shame. I guess somebody's going to have a real challenge to try to put that right," Sullivan said.

That somebody would be the mural's owner - the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Its president, David Brigham, says trouble occurred when a piece of concrete fell in a stairwell.

"By dropping rather than lowering it, they caused a trauma which reverberated through the building and that energy was transferred down into the mosaic and caused a structural crack to open up," Brigham said.

Brigham says the mural is made up of panels, now two of those panels are out of vertical alignment.

This cultural landmark with its 260 shades of glass is the work of illustrator Maxfield Parrish, known for his early 20th century advertising and covers of Curtis publications like on the Saturday Evening Post.

"Parrish was one of their go-to illustrators; he also illustrated calendars, many of the great books of his generation," Brigham said.

The plan is stabilize the mural then let the construction proceed, then repair the mural.

18 years ago, this same mural was at the center of a controversy.

The owners of the mural at the time tried to sell it to casino operator Steve Wynn who was going to move it to Las Vegas.

There was a public outcry and the sale fell through.

The Pew Trust bought the mural for $3.5-million and gave it to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

It joins a list of historic objects in Philadelphia, along with parts of Boathouse Row, the Wanamaker's eagle, and Eastern State Penitentiary.
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