By EMMALEE C. TORISK
When the downtown building onto which volunteers had spent hundreds of hours painting a 12-foot-high, 72-foot-wide mural depicting the city’s past and present was demolished, Melanie Rauschenbach realized that she couldn’t let all that hard work result in nothing.
So, as president of the 1st Ward Block Watch, Rauschenbach insisted that the group try again.
“Everybody was so disappointed and heartbroken. We were so proud of it,” she said. “I didn’t want anybody to lose momentum, so I said, ‘We did it before, and we can do it again.’”
In August, just months after losing their first attempt, volunteers started over — projecting, tracing and then painting several of the city’s landmarks onto a donated wall of American Wire and Shapes on South Bridge Street.
And, as luck would have it, the new location is perhaps better than the first, which was the southwest side of the Vasco Electric Building on State Street, Rauschenbach said.
Though the new incarnation of the mural is about 20 feet shorter than the original, it now faces the Bridge Street Bridge — and serves as a veritable greeting for those driving or walking over the bridge into the city’s downtown.
Being greeted by the mural is exponentially better than being greeted by a blank wall, said Tony Fire, 1st Ward councilman. He added that aside from the slight difference in size, the new mural is “almost exactly the same” as its predecessor.
Like the first, it is based upon a design by Rachell Joy, a graphic designer for Youngstown State University and a resident of Struthers’ 1st Ward. The design was a collaborative effort and one that featured input from the city’s residents, administration and historical society, among others.
It brings together several landmarks that are significant to the city’s history, many of which are now gone, and proclaims, in fancy script letters, that Struthers is “the city with heart in the heart of it all.”
Landmarks selected for the mural include the old Struthers High School building, a Struthers Wildcat and the Hopewell Furnace.
“We wanted things that people would remember, or things that would spark conversation,” Rauschenbach said. “And as we were working on the old mural, we were surprised by the number of people who would stop by and had stories and memories they wanted to share.”
This new mural, though, might be even more special than the first, Fire said, simply because it preserves all of the time and effort that went into the original. He added that volunteers painted the first mural from June to September of last year, but spent several months beforehand raising the funds to do so. It was demolished in the early spring, without much warning.
The mural’s being torn down caught the eye of Bill Heck, owner of American Wire and Shapes, and he contacted the 1st Ward Block Watch shortly afterward, requesting that the same exact mural be painted on his building.
Block-watch members were happy to oblige, Rauschenbach said, adding that they’re hoping to finish by mid-October, or at least before the snow begins to fall.
Heck explained that having the mural on his building was important to him. He said that when he purchased the building, it was “one step from being torn down,” but that he worked to fix it up, little by little. Adding the mural to his building has brought him one step closer to his goal.
“I’ve never owned a business or a building, but I wanted something to be proud of,” Heck said. “Everybody sees it. When someone drives past, they say, ‘It looks nice,’ and I say, ‘We’ve got extra paintbrushes.’”
Membership in the 1st Ward Block Watch, which concentrates on helping and beautifying the community, isn’t required to help out with the mural, Rauschenbach said.
In fact, artistic talent isn’t a prerequisite either.
“When we started out, none of us were artists,” she said. “The fact that we pulled it off was pretty cool. You don’t have to have any talent to get involved, so we always encourage people to come down and join us.”
For more information, contact Rauschenbach at 330-506-7690.