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Decades-old Kennedy family mural painted over without warning

The wall of a building on the corner of Harvard and Thorndike Streets, pictured shortly after a mural was painted in 1995 (left) and on May 23 of this year (right). Left photo courtesy of Joshua Winer, right photo by Sam Mintz
May 24, 2024

A mural featuring Kennedy family photos and memorabilia that long adorned a wall in the neighborhood where John F. Kennedy was born is now gone.

The owner of the building on the corner of Harvard and Thorndike Streets, which contains Anna’s Taqueria, painted over the mural in early May with no warning, to the frustration of the artist, Joshua Winer, and town officials.

It was not immediately clear why the building owner painted over the mural. A manager working at the taqueria declined to comment, and the restaurant chain, which has seven locations around the Boston area, did not respond to a request for comment. The building is owned by Rocket Street LLC, according to Norfolk County deed records. Rocket Street also could not be reached for comment.

The mural was one of four around the JFK Crossing neighborhood near Coolidge Corner painted in 1995 to brighten the otherwise drab walls of local businesses. The other three remain in place.

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Winer, who spent three months painting the mural, said in an interview that he was surprised and frustrated that the work was taken down without his knowledge.

He said the mural had been defaced by graffiti over the years, and that he had recently put in a proposal to the town to restore it.

While he now has a new proposal to recreate the mural elsewhere in town, he says it would be a “massive” amount of work to match the detail of the 1995 work.

“If they were planning on removing [it]… I could have traced everything,” he said.

Town officials called the removal a “loss for our community” and said they will consider options for bringing back the mural or a similar one.

“While we understand the building owner didn’t intend any harm, this incident highlights the need for a more sustainable approach to public art,” Town Administrator Charles Carey said in a statement.

He called the incident a “poignant reminder of the importance of safeguarding our cultural landmarks.”

Paul Warren, a member of the town’s Select Board, said that there is a public expectation that art like this mural is protected.

“I think at a minimum we should be sending notices out to any landlord of a building like this and say, ‘Hey, you have public art on your building. Before you do anything with it, you should please notify us so we can find options to protect it,’” Warren said.

Aaron Norris, an economic development and long-term planner for the town, said he has been in touch with Winer about possible opportunities for him to contribute a new mural or replicate the Kennedy family mural.

Norris is leading a project to commission artists to bring a number of pieces of public art to Brookline. It started with painted and vinyl-wrapped utility boxes earlier this year, and will continue with murals and painted fiberglass turkeys in the summer and fall.

New murals will be installed using semi-permanent metal panels so they can be removed or moved around town if the ownership if another incident arises as with the Kennedy mural, Norris said.

In JFK Crossing, another of the murals on a wall of the Aborn True Value hardware store at the corner of Harvard and Coolidge Streets depicts flowers and animals. On a wall of Kupel’s bakery at Harvard and Fuller Streets, a second mural depicts a butcher shop. The third, on the building of Daily Catch on Harvard Street facing Shimon’s service station, depicts the neighborhood over time.

The Kennedy work had special significance to Winer, who painted it shortly after the birth of his first son, Charles, while thinking about the Kennedy family in the context of his own life. “It was just thrilling to be a new dad,” Winer said.

He had been learning about the lives of John F. Kennedy and the former president’s siblings through a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin and visits to the nearby JFK National Historic site on Beals Street. The mural centered on a recreation of an actual desk belonging to Kennedy family matriarch Rose, which sits in the museum. It was commissioned by the JFK Crossing Neighborhood Association.

“Twenty-nine years is a long time to have a work of public art there and have it just vanish like that,” Winer said.

Artist Joshua Winer working on the mural in 1995. Photo courtesy of Joshua Winer