Frank Rizzo mural in South Philly to be replaced with better representation of neighborhood, leaders say

The nonprofit’s announcement came on the heels of the removal of another controversial Rizzo landmark: the 10-foot-tall bronze statue outside the Municipal Services Building.

Frank Rizzo mural

The mural "A Tribute to Frank Rizzo" by Diane Keller is seen in the Italian Market neighborhood of Philadelphia, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Updated 7:28 p.m.

Mural Arts Philadelphia — the nation’s largest public art program — is parting ways with its mural of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo. And the South 9th Street Italian Market said it will be replaced with a new mural, according to a statement released Wednesday evening.

The South 9th Street Shopping District, Mural Arts, and local property owners will work together  to create a new mural that “better represents the fabric of S. 9th Street,” the statement reads.

In the interim, the mural will be painted over as a blank canvas as soon as possible.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“We agree it is time to replace this long-standing piece of art to begin to heal the Black community, the LGBTQ community and many others.”

Mural Arts on Wednesday announced its decision on Twitter amid ongoing protests over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The announcement came on the heels of the removal of another controversial Rizzo landmark: the 10-foot-tall bronze statue that sat outside the Municipal Services Building across from City Hall.

The mural — not unlike the larger-than-life statue — has “again become a target for defacement amidst this national chapter of pain, grief, and anger over the recent death of George Floyd and the systemic racism plaguing our country,” Mural Arts wrote.

The former site of the Frank Rizzo statue
The statue of former Philadelphia mayor and chief of police Frank Rizzo was removed from the city’s Municipal Services Building early Wednesday morning amid civic unrest around the killings of unarmed Black men in the U.S. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The program said that it has engaged the community in discussion about the mural’s fate for several years. Moving forward, though, Mural Arts will not be involved in the mural’s repair nor its restoration.

“We do not believe the mural can play a role in healing and supporting dialogue,” Mural Arts said in a tweet. “But rather it has become a painful reminder for many of the former mayor’s legacy, and only adds to the pain and anger.”

Mural Arts said it does not believe the maintenance and repair of the Rizzo mural is consistent with its mission.

The mural is on display at the intersection of Montrose and South 9th streets, which Mural Arts explained is private property. To that end, the property owner would need to approve the mural’s replacement or removal.

Italian Market neighborhood leaders added that there were also concerns for the safety of neighborhood residents during this time of unrest with the mural present.

Most residents live above businesses along the East Passyunk Avenue corridor. They plan to hire private security to prevent “vigilantism, violence and threats to residents.” The leaders say that these security personnel have undergone training “focused on diversity, diffusing situations and properly identifying threats.”

“We see you. We hear you. We stand with you,” the statement reads. “Our sympathies go out to the Floyd family. Our hearts are with everyone that has suffered senseless loss.”

Overnight, workers removed the controversial statue in Center City, which was defaced during a recent protest.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“The Frank Rizzo statue represented bigotry, hatred, and oppression for too many people, for too long,” Mayor Jim Kenney wrote in an Instagram post. “It is finally gone.”

Speaking with reporters Wednesday morning, Kenney called the move the “beginning of a healing process in our city.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney talked about the long-overdue removal of the statue of Frank Rizzo statue in front of the municipal services building. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“This is not the end,” Kenney said, pointing to where the statue once stood. “[Removing the statue] is not the be-all and end-all of where we need to go.”

Supporters said Rizzo was tough on crime, while critics said he targeted and discriminated against communities of color.

Rizzo, who rose to power in the late 1960s, when Philadelphia was becoming an increasingly segregated city, was sued by the U.S. Justice Department in 1979 for “condoning systematic police brutality,” The Washington Post reported at the time.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal