Until recently, people lined up to see a mural at the Wells Fargo branch at 1900 Broadway, now vacant and the proposed site of a seven-story building housing offices, apartments and retail stores. Ok, a bit of a stretch as the approximately 30 foot long mural was right in front of the ticket windows. Waiting customers could hardly be expected not to see the mural that depicted the early years of Redwood City, a time when today’s downtown was a bustling waterfront with stacks wood ready for shipment.
“We’ve asked Wells Fargo to leave the mural in place,” said Mark Murray, spokesman for Lane Partners, the firm that proposed the multipurpose structure that will replace the bank. “Our intention is to give it to the appropriate group so that it can be preserved.” Unfortunately, it won’t be easy. According to bank spokeswoman Melanie Tobin, “Whoever created the mural applied it directly like wallpaper.”
This story originally appeared in the February issue of Climate Magazine. Click here to read the full digital publication.
Wells Fargo, which is known for featuring murals in its branches, had little information about the mural. Its backstory is in limbo for now, but, on the bright side, researchers in the Redwood City Main Library’s History Room have uncovered some interesting facts, including that the painting’s origins mural can be found in “The Illustrated History of San Mateo County,” a collection of lithographs published in 1878 by Moore & DePue. Apparently, a photo was taken of the waterfront scene from the book and enlarged to size. ‘a fresco. However, no one seems to be sure, so we’ll stick with “apparently”. One thing is certain, the lithograph is the work of Grafton T. Brown, who depicted 72 views of the county in the book Illustrated History Book Brown, who died in 1918, was a very successful black artist, which was unusual for the time.
The Community Murals Program
Murals are a feature of Wells Fargo banks. Its community mural program is described in a bank statement as honoring “the heritage of the communities we serve, highlighting the geographic, industrial and cultural diversity that gives each community its unique character and sense of place.” The program has resulted in murals at more than 2,300 Wells Fargo locations nationwide, including the Marsh Manor Mall in Redwood City. The 20-foot-long mural offers a crash course in the history of Redwood City, comprised of 12 photos, one taken in 1921 at what was then the city’s main fire station, expanded and converted into a central branch of the library in 1988. The exterior of the building, including its distinctive red lamps, remained much the same.
The city’s founders included a bearded Simon Mezes, staring into his 1854 portrait with a distant expression. He was the agent for the Arguello family who held title to Rancho de las Pulgas, the Spanish land grant that would become Redwood City. Mezes wanted the town to be called Mezesville, an idea that did not last long. A park on Howland Street, however, bears his name, although Mezes Park is better known as “Tank Park”, for the World War II army tank that has stood guard since the 1940s. Mezes donated the land for this park as well as the area of California Square, which served as the downtown plaza until the 1950s, when it was replaced by the current County Government Center.
Other photos of the Marsh Manor mural include the familiar ‘Climate Best by Government Test’ sign; the stately 1900s San Mateo County Courthouse; the once-important San Mateo County Bank in 1891, a Renaissance Revival structure said to be the oldest stone building in the county; and a 1914 photo of a flower grower bringing chrysanthemums to market. The mural also features an 1884 map of San Mateo County; a 1917 photo of Wells Fargo Redwood City staff; and two advertisements from the bank’s early days.
December’s history column about the Chinese laundry housed in Redwood City’s oldest commercial building jolted the memory of former mayor Brent Britschgi. His family owned the Occidental Dairy just across the creek on Jefferson Avenue.
“Most of the property today is the parking lot,” he said. “The dairy was in the front and the back had a two story building including a barn. Next door was the Lang-Tinney Funeral Home. On the other side of Jefferson was the county jail with inmates leaning out of the windows yelling at us. Britschgi was mayor from 1984 to 1986.