Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Brush with Greatness: African-American history mural planned for side of Jackson Hotel.

The old Jackson Hotel in Harrisburg, including, at the right, the wall where a mural is planned.

A new mural will celebrate Harrisburg’s African-American history, adorning the side of a building that once hosted such luminaries as Louis Armstrong and Pearl Bailey.

Sprocket Mural Works announced the project yesterday for the former Jackson Hotel and Rooming House on the 1000-block of N. 6th Street, a building that, decades ago, catered primarily to a black clientele refused service in the city’s major, segregated hotels.

“It will be an African-American historic mural, playing off the history itself,” said Sprocket co-founder Jeff Copus.

The Jackson Hotel painting is one of 10 murals that will be created during the Harrisburg Mural Festival, which Sprocket is organizing for the first 10 days of September.

Copus last night told the Harrisburg Architectural Review Board (HARB) that the mural will feature people who stayed at the hotel, possibly including entertainers like Armstrong, Bailey, Cab Callaway and Ella Fitzgerald. It may also incorporate images of important Harrisburg figures such as Ephraim Slaughter, an escaped slave who fought in the Civil War and later settled in the city.

In August, Sprocket will seek public input for the mural design, Copus said.

Sprocket is commissioning artist Cesar Viveros to paint the mural. Locally, Viveros is best known as the artist-in-residence who helped design and lead the creation of the Mulberry Street Bridge murals.

HARB voted 4-2 to support the mural, the two “no” votes from members who wanted more input into the actual mural design. While HARB must approve a mural project within the historic district, the details of the painting are beyond its purview.

As the building’s owner, HARB member Jeremiah Chamberlin abstained from the vote. Chamberlin bought the building about 18 months ago, hoping to save it from further deterioration. It has been unoccupied for almost 20 years since the death of long-time owner German Jackson, who bequeathed it Dave Kegris, owner of the Jackson House restaurant next door. Kegris eventually sold it to Kerry and Lessa Helm, who then sold it to Chamberlin.

Ted Hanson, a long-time resident of the Old Fox Ridge neighborhood, wanted assurances that Chamberlin would begin work to stabilize and restore the building.

“My concern is that the building is in serious distress,” Hanson told the HARB board. “I am very concerned if stability doesn’t happen very quickly, you’ll be painting a mural on a crumbling property.”

Chamberlin assured Hanson that he would begin work on the building “within the next couple of weeks.”

“I have no desire to see my investment lost either,” Chamberlin said.

Hanson also was concerned that the mural might impede development of the vacant lots next door, as new construction could block the view of the mural. Copus said that Sprocket would not stand in the way of the development of the empty lots at N. 6th and Herr streets, which are owned by the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority and by Bethel AME Church, a historically black congregation that lost its church to an arson fire in 1995.

“Hopefully, this will generate interest in that underutilized lot,” Copus said.

Click here for more information on the Harrisburg Mural Festival.

Author:  Lawrance Binda


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