As soon as you turn the corner on Essex Street a little past Maria's restaurant, it hits you.
A huge colorful mural covering the side of a four-story building immediately grabs your attention, and one can't help but be drawn to the numerous faces and imagery depicted in the mural.
The work you're looking at is the Essex Street Gateway Community Mural designed by the Team Haverhill civic group. The mural shows the history of Haverhill and its celebrities.
"This project is something the entire community should be proud of," said Tim Jordan, co-chairman of the mural project.
The mural was unveiled last week and there were many people on Essex Street to celebrate. U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, Mayor James Fiorentini and James Jajuga, outgoing president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, all spoke at the event. In the crowd were city councilors John Michitson, William Macek and Sven Amirian, who is new chamber president, as well as state Senate hopefuls Paul Magliochetti, William Manzi and Tim Coco.
Also attending were people who traveled here from out of state. Popular shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, who appears on the mural, was a special guest at the ceremony. Also speaking at the event was Loretta Neville, who flew in from North Carolina for the event. Neville's great-grandfather, Sidney Mason, is in the mural and was the first paid African-American firefighter in Haverhill.
"This picture shows me that Haverhill was a place where people fought (for what was) right," Neville said. "They didn't run black people out of town. They decided to honor him. That doesn't happen everywhere."
Mason is one of many famous Haverhill people past and present who appear in the mural. Also appearing in the mural are: Andre Dubus III, author of the best-selling book "Townie" about growing up in Haverhill; horror movie maker Rob Zombie; Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Rays first baseman who attended Haverhill High School; and "Dancing With The Stars" host Tom Bergeron, also a Haverhill High grad. The mural shows film producer Louis B. Mayer's Orpheum Theatre in Haverhill from the early 1900s, with more than 50 Haverhill residents in either the theatre's seats or looking through theatre windows.
The mural is located on the outside wall of the building that houses the Essex Street Grille on Essex Street. Donations and help from local businesses and sponsors made it happen.
"Not a dime of taxpayer money was used for this project," Jordan said. "It was all private donations."
The project was designed by Meg Saligman and James Tafel Shuster from MLS Studios in Philadelphia. They were assisted by many local painters who volunteered to help make the mural a reality. Children and senior citizens were among those who helped paint panels of the mural before the panels were assembled.
The next step is the addition of lighting, so the mural can be displayed at night. LED lights should be installed within the next month and the lighting costs will be paid by Steven and George Haginicolas, owners of the building.
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