Members of the City Planning Commission are supporting a proposal that would prevent a mural from being painted on a red brick building at Lawton Public Library, but still allow the art work to be done.
CPC member Deborah Jones, a retired City of Lawton planner who also worked for the entity that guided urban renewal efforts in Lawton’s downtown area, asked commissioners to support her proposal that would offer an alternative for a plan by Friends of the Lawton Public Library to commission a mural from Lawton’s Shaw Brothers, one that incorporates figures from literature into a mural that spells out the word library. That mural is to be painted on the wall of the library’s annex, which forms the eastern edge of the parking lot immediately north of the library on Southwest 4th Street, but Jones has suggested the work instead be created on a framed surface erected in front of the wall.
Sept. 9, the Friends won two appeals made to the Board of Adjustment, challenging a decision by city planners that the mural was a sign and one by the Downtown Architectural Review Committee rejecting the idea to paint the mural on the brick wall.
The library is within the Downtown Overlay District, a zoning designation that sets restrictions on what can be done to properties in an effort to enforce uniform looks and protect the buildings there. The review committee, whose members also are the Lawton Urban Renewal Authority, is tasked with reviewing plans for buildings within the downtown overlay district, and had rejected plans by the Friends of the Library that would allow Terry and Darry Shaw to paint a 120-foot by 18-foot mural that would essentially cover the entire red brick wall.
John Purcell, vice chair of the Downtown Architectural Committee, said while members love the idea of a mural, the word “library” lettered within it makes the work a sign. He said members are looking to the future, and while downtown standards impose strict limits on signs, granting an exemption for the library will almost certainly bring requests from others. Deputy City Manager Richard Rogalski said while the project is similar to other murals commissioned throughout the city, the mural will incorporate lettering, making it a sign.
Patty Neuwirth, a member of the Friends group and president of the library board, said the mural is public art and its effort to incorporate various literary characters will lure youth to the library. After the Board of Adjustment voted to reverse the two previous decisions, Neuwirth said the Friends would proceed with plans for the mural. Rogalski said the Friends would need council approval on a memorandum of understanding, pledging to maintain the work, before the work could begin. The council is expected to consider the request Oct. 27.
Jones suggested a wooden frame be erected to contain the mural, without painting on the red brick. She said the library’s distinctive look — including the red brick construction — was deliberate and drew interest when the library was first built as a “cornerstone” for Lawton’s downtown revival.
“Many people came from all over to look at this architecture,” Jones said, adding McMahon Foundation also provided the money to build the library and the city already has a reputation for not taking care of structures funded by that group.
Jones said she wants to retain the redbrick facade, so her solution for still allowing the colorful mural is a free-standing frame fastened in front of the annex wall, to hold the painted mural. She said it would be a workable solution for those who want the colorful work and those who want to protect the building.
“Murals are temporary in nature,” she said, explaining the work won’t last forever and this compromise allows the mural to be held in place until it needed to be taken town, while keeping the red brick intact. “I implore the council to not put any paint on this building.”
Commissioners agreed to send a letter of support for the idea to the council, for consideration as its looks at the MOU with the Friends.