Painting The TownOrange Octopus mural at new west ashley restaurant raises concerns, sets precedent
March 15, 2017
By Bill Davis | News Editor
DB’s Cheesesteaks will open in the next few weeks in the former Papa Murphy’s spot in the Avondale Business District, that long-timers will remember as the old Krispy Kreme that had been replete with spinning stools and starburst linoleum counters.
Inside the color scheme is muted; soft orange hues coupled with weather-softened wooden floors. The city, so far, has no problems with that.
Outside, however, is a different story.
There on the wall facing Savannah Highway, and the penitent at Blessed Sacrament if they crane their necks, is a colorful mural that has caught the attention of some members of the Ashley Forest neighborhood as well as the eye of the city’s Design and Review Board.
Entitled “Avondale,” appropriately enough, the huge building-long mural features a brighter orange octopus gobbling up in its tentacles various buildings located in the hip business district.
It also features a graffiti stylized “tag” of something that is likely indecipherable to anyone not in the scene. But if you look close enough, you could argue the design makes out the letters “DB’s,” something that could be an issue with the Design and Review Board, if its viewed as signage and not a mural. This is something the board will likely be discussed at its meeting on Monday, March 20.
Earlier this week, Scott Parsons, the artist who created “Avondale,” was considering ways to amend the mural if the Design and Review Board felt it violated the city’s sign ordinance.
It also is possible that members of the Ashley Forest neighborhood could voice concern about the style of the mural. Some of suggested on the neighborhood’s Facebook page that the mural has a graffiti style that could be associated with negative criminal elements. Something that the artist, the business owner, and the building’s property manager think is ridiculous.
The mural fits in with the ongoing “arting-up” of the Avondale shopping area, as many of the buildings across the street feature graffiti-style paintings by local artists, perhaps most noticeable from Savannah Highway is zany work of an artist who goes by the name Patch Whisky.
Mainly the back alleys are covered in murals, across the street stretching from Gene’s Haufbrau down to the Cancer Children’s Thrift store.
Parsons loves watching his son’s reaction every weekday morning as he drives him by the mural on their way to drop off the 6-year-old at Charlestowne Montessori around the corner.
Parsons has been friends with Danny Bailey (DB of DB’s), who first opened his Cheesesteak restaurant on James Island before it closed during the Great Recession. Back in the 1980s Bailey recalls grabbing a cheesesteak at Surf’s Up, a sub shack Parsons’ parents owned and ran in Bethany Beach, Del.
Parsons said when he saw the blank canvas that was the side of his old buddy’s new restaurant, he knew exactly what needed to go there.
A huge, voracious orange octopus.
“I’m a pretty easy-going guy,” says Bailey. “Scott is my guy, so I said to just let him do what he does best. I love it.”
Bailey said he wanted a mural of some sort for the local community, something to brighten everyone’s day who sees it.
He was stoked when his landlord, Edwin Kronsberg, enthusiastically approved such a daring move. “Totally upstanding businessman who is also just a ‘dude,’ you know what I mean? He is not just some ‘suit.’”
Kronsberg, managing partner with the Avondale Holdings company that owns and manages many of the Avondale buildings, said murals like “Avondale” make for a “cool, quirky, fun neighborhood. Everybody I’ve talked to is behind it and in favor or making the Avondale area a more livable, warm neighborhood.”
A letter recently received from City Hall let Kronsberg know that West Ashley is more and more on the city’s radar, too. In the past, many locals complained that while Charleston’s city limits stretched well past the Ashley River, City Hall never lifted its eyes off the peninsula.
The letter was in response to Bailey’s request for signage for his restaurant. The city was asking that the request for signage and the mural be conjoined, and reviewed by city officials.
The city has been supportive of efforts in the shopping district to create a sense of place. According to Kronsberg, much of the reason the city, known for its stodginess, is even open to big public art like “Avondale” is due to the work Geoff Richardson has done in the area with chART — Charleston’s Outdoor Art Initiative, which is responsible for coordinating the artist who have created the colorful murals on the backside of the shops across the street from the new DB’s.
Co-owner of Lava Salon along Savannah Highway, Richardson has for years fought to bring art and art-happenings to Avondale, through public events like chART and family-friendly festivals hosted in the popular business district. But he has always gone to great lengths to get the proper permissions before the first cap is even removed from a can of spray paint. Richardson says he not only supports art “but also the permitting process.”
Down Savannah Highway, city planners are trying to create a second Avondale-like scene at the intersection of Wappoo Road, where an enhanced bike crossing will help link the greenway and bikeway.
In the DuWapp area, the new nickname for that part of West Ashley, city planning head Jacob Lindsey has tried to help foster a “makers market” of home-grown shops.
Lindsey said that the city wants to make sure the line is clear between a “design element,” like a huge octopus, and a sign for a restaurant. That way future businesses won’t be able to put a mural on a building with a company logo on it, and not have had it reviewed by the city. The future of DB’s “Avondale” mural will be discussed on Thursday, March 20 when it heads to the city’s Design Review Board.
This is a similar issue that Moe’s Southwest and Smoke BBQ recently faced with the Town of Mt. Pleasant. But the grittier DIY style of Avondale is a stark deviation from our East Cooper counterpart, where things are much more scrutinized. For years there was little attention paid to this sort of stuff on our side of the river. But things have changed as West Ashley continues to blossom.
“Avondale has made its mark as the underdog that thrived while no one was looking and to stifle that now would be a shame,” says Richardson.