A horse with buggy trots down Oakland Avenue near the intersection with Fletcher Avenue, passing houses that remain architectural marvels. Elm, evergreen and other trees line the boulevard.
The picturesque scene in Council Bluffs circa 1910, first depicted in a postcard, now stands more than 12-feet tall on a wall lining Oakland Avenue, one of three photo murals depicting the area’s history recently installed by the Historic Lincoln-Fairview Neighborhood Association.
Looking at the mural, association President Susan Seamands marveled at its dimension. The picture offers the chance to stroll down the street.
“It follows you. Wherever you are (walking by), it invites you in,” she said Tuesday as association board members gathered to celebrate the installation’s completion, replete with a champagne toast. “We’ve brought pleasant ghosts of the past back to life.”
Later, still marveling at the scene with The 712 Initiative CEO Sheryl Garst, Seamands said, “Look at this. You can get right in there.”
Along with the Oakland Avenue scene, two other murals now stand on the wall that’s part of the CenturyLink building’s property: Washington School, 269 Washington Ave., and the former Council Bluffs Fire Department Central Station, 69 N. Main St., both 1920 photos of the since-demolished buildings.
The murals are part of the three-pronged use of a $15,000 “walkability” grant the association received from The 712 Initiative and its Neighborhood Network Initiative through funding by the Iowa West Foundation.
Association members said the first prong was plaques that adorn the homes with the year each house was built. Seamands said 50 out of about 200 residences in the neighborhood participated. Next came improvements to neighborhood sidewalks, with a 50% resident match.
And now, after some COVID-19-related delays, the murals. The process started with permission. Seamands reached out to CenturyLink for use of the wall.
A committee of neighborhood members, along with the board, researched and chose the photos “for their beauty,” Seamands said.
Last week, Revolution Wraps installed the photo murals.
“I’m just so excited,” association board member Nadine Keith said. “So much work went into this.”
“But the results are great,” said Patrick Barton, who teamed with fellow association board member Mark Petersen to prepare and restore the pictures — one from a postcard, the other two from photos — for mural scale.
Board members said they were thrilled with the outcome, pieces that add to the prolific amount of public art in Council Bluffs while depicting the history of the neighborhood they call home.
“It’s essential, and we’re only stewards,” of history, Seamands said. “We have an essential mandate to preserve that for the generations to come.”
Along with Lincoln-Fairview, four other neighborhoods used $15,000 in Neighborhood Network funds, according to Rachel Kent, director of marketing and public relations for The 712 Initiative.
The Kanesville-Tinley Neighborhood Association hosted a neighborhood Easter egg hunt at the Children’s Square Playground; the Gibraltar Neighborhood Association installed a mural on the side of the Pottawattamie Genealogical Society’s building on South Fourth and Worth Streets; the Lincoln-Dell Neighborhood Association hosted three movie nights in Graham Park with food trucks and games and the Bayliss Park Neighborhood Association created Baldwin Court, turning a vacant lot into a community common area including a picnic area, walking track and soccer goals.
“They’re part of an effort to make the neighborhoods more vibrant. Having people be more active, improving the walkability of the neighborhood. Enjoy the outdoors. Part of our mission is, not only the homes themselves, renovating, but activating those public spaces, engagement of the citizens,” Garst said Tuesday while taking in the new murals. “This all helps with encouraging that, removing those small barriers to make neighborhoods more lively.”
Lincoln-Fairview Association members noted the old Washington School and fire station are gone — the school was replaced in 1954, according to the district, and the fire station was torn down in 1973 amid urban renewal, according to fire department historian Cal Petersen. They exist only in photographs and memories, brought back by the murals.
Seamands noted, “It’s been so cool, people come up and say, ‘My grandfather went to school in that building’ or ‘I remember that fire station.’”
“We’re very proud,” Seamands said as association members milled about, chatting about the works and the neighborhood. “We’re looking forward to enjoying this for years to come.”
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