Ward 3 Gem
by Ernesto Portillo, Ward 3 Council Aide
There is a large, colorful mural on the wall of S&K Market in the Miracle Manor neighborhood. It is a 10-year-old iconic mural with various representative images of the rich history of this small niche in Ward 3. But more than a mural, it was a seed that helped launch Tucson’s mural movement over the recent years.
“This mural...initiated the city-wide mural movement. When we started almost nobody wanted murals,” said Michael Schwartz, the mural artist whose name is painted in the lower left corner on the north-facing wall of the market at 2520 N. 15th Ave. But really, he added, the mural’s creators were many people, young and old, from the neighborhood. The mural emerged from an extensive intergenerational, after-school series of workshops and interviews.
“People voted on every single element in that mural. The neighbors literally cast ballots,” he said. “I acted as the lead artist and painted their mural.”
At the core of the mural is more than paint on a brick wall. It is about community engagement and cultural development, and building community identity in the neighborhood bounded by Miracle Mile on the north, Grant Road on the south, Oracle on the east and Fairview on the west.
The mural project began in early September 2009. It was one of five demonstration art projects sponsored by the Tucson Arts Brigade. The Miracle Manor Neighborhood Association proposed the mural and it was developed and created in collaboration with the Youth Empowerment Services Network. It was completed in April 2010.
The images in the mural include the sign for the Ghost Ranch and Lodge Restaurant, whose sign was designed by artist Georgia O’Keefe and El Rey, both which represent the smattering of small motor lodges that had sprung up on Miracle Mile and Oracle Road, the northern entrance to Tucson, before the coming of the freeway. There is John Wayne on the big screen of the now-gone Biltmore/Miracle Mile Drive-in theater and E. C. Nash Elementary School, opened in 1960 and named after the first superintendent of the Amphitheater School District. And there is a neighbor looking out from her window admiring the birds, a rabbit, oranges on a tree, flowers. The image is reflective of the area’s early rural character. The mural is topped off with fluffy bunny-shaped clouds soaring above purple mountains and a radiating sky.
"Back in the late 1940s and early '50s when the neighborhood was being developed, residents who still lived here from that time offered up information for the history of the neighborhood," said Marsha Quinn, in a story in the Arizona Daily Star, published on Oct. 22, 2012. Quinn, a neighborhood resident who was involved in the mural project, added, "We really wanted to have the mural be meaningful to the neighborhood, and the seniors really had a lot of input."
Some of those neighbors involved in the project were Henry and Alicia Garcia, Sandi Mittelstaedt, Mickey Ethington, Dee Brunner, Gene Dickens, Mario Gonzalez, Oscar Bojorquez, Kathy Johnson, according to the Daily Star story.
The project’s history and creation is collected in this internet site.
For Chankiry Chhang, owner of the S&K Market for the past 17 years, the mural has been nothing but positive.
“It was better than a blank wall,” he said as he admired the mural Thursday afternoon. He has had no problems with graffiti on the mural. He said that people from outside the neighborhood come to the store to admire it and take photos of the mural. “Everybody comes,” he said. “It makes me feel proud.”