Mural Arts to daub annex of The Drake

The Drake is already one of the most distinctive buildings in Philadelphia. But if all goes smoothly at next month’s Historical Commission meeting, the Art Deco apartment tower will look even jazzier thanks to the addition of a 2,500-square-foot mural.  

The $52,000 project will not adorn the historic building itself, but will instead enliven the low-slung ballroom annex that sits behind the Spruce Street-fronting Drake. Dating back to 1961, this drab accompaniment to the towering majesty of the Drake houses the InterAct Theater Company.

InterAct and the Mural Arts Philadelphia program have partnered on the project, dubbed “The Stage,” which attempts to mirror the kind of rowhouses that face the ballroom from across narrow Hicks Street. The mural will also feature painted trees, mirroring those on the other side of the alleyway, although they will be depicted at a more advanced age and size “as a nod to the future.”

Under the limbs of the illustrated greenery, the city skyline will be portrayed at human height. Just discernable to the passerby, or the playgoer, will be 42 fragmentary excerpts from a variety of play texts associated with InterAct. (The theater company is dedicated to “new and contemporary plays,” so Hamlet’s famous existential question will simply not be there and lines from Godot will never arrive.)

At Tuesday’s Architectural Committee meeting, the only concern raised about the project was its color. The Drake is constructed of orange bricks that emit an early autumn warmth, but the mural is largely composed of purple and a deep twilight crimson.

“The primary color of the mural is more of a red and could be more in keeping with that of the exterior cladding of the drake,” said Kim Chantry, a historic planner for the city, in her otherwise enthusiastic staff endorsement of the project.

The Architectural Committee agreed, recommending approval of the project by the larger Historical Commission—but with the suggestion that the coloring be revisited “to make it more harmonious with The Drake.”

The mural is designed by Philadelphia artist Felix St. Fort, a graduate of the University of the Arts. $20,000 will be covered by the city through the Mural Arts program, and the rest will be covered by InterAct Theater.

The only public comment came from the Preservation Alliance’s Patrick Grossi, who noted that his organization has a preservation easement on The Drake. But their power does not extend to the ballroom annex and, in any case, they had no objection to the project.

The next step for the project will be the full Historical Commission, which next meets on August 11, 2017.

Concept design for The Stage by Felix St. Fort, which will adorn InterAct Theater behind The Drake
(Felix St. Fort)

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