Penny Furniture restorer regrets (preservationally correct) Eno mural coverup

07/15/2014 12:00 AM

07/22/2014 12:16 PM

The mural of Eno River scenes graces the old Penny Furniture building no more, covered over now with beige paint at the behest of the building’s new owner, who now says he’s sorry.

“It pains me to think we have hurt the community in any way,” wrote Tobias McNulty, CEO of Caktus Group, in a lengthy mea culpa on his company blog ( last Friday.

“We handled this poorly. We apologize for not making more efforts to include the community in this decision,” McNulty wrote.

“It’s devastating,” artist Emily Weinstein, who painted the mural in 1996, said last week. “The town of Durham is not happy.”

McNulty wrote his post in response to a flurry of online complaints after Weinstein put the mural up as her Facebook cover photo ( and expressed her dismay.

“Enjoy the photo as it no longer exists. It has been destroyed by the Caktus Group that moved into the building,” Weinstein wrote.

“Very sad. My office is about two blocks from there and I passed by that mural many times,” wrote Jeff Bakalchuck, a member of the Durham Open Space and Trails and Bicycle and Pedestrian commissions.

“I’ll miss it, a true loss for Durham,” Bakalchuck said.

The mural covered 4,300 square feet on a brick wall off Morris Street, across a small parking lot from the Durham Arts Council building. It depicted an autumn woodland populated by Eno-specific creatures such as long-nose gar, Neuse River water dog (a salamander), American kestrel, yellow lamp mussels, river otters and a marsh rabbit.

The late Donald Penny, whose family owned the building for its furniture business, had helped pay for Weinstein’s mural as a gift to the city.

“It is a shame to remove art murals such as this,” said sculptor Enrique Vega.

Historic restoration

Over the years, though, the mural had become faded and chipped. Caktus Group, a web development and consulting firm in Carrboro, bought the building earlier this year and set out to renovate it, including restoring its exterior to the original circa-1910 (when it was occupied by Hall-Wynne Funeral Home) appearance.

Originally, the mural wall was solid beige, and historically correct restoration called for reopening windows in the wall that had been bricked up for decades. The Historic Preservation Commission unanimously approved the restoration plan April 1.

The commission concluded, “The proposed additions and alterations are consistent with the historic character and qualities of the Historic District and are consistent with the Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation and the Local Review Criteria.”

Weinstein was not present to argue for the mural’s preservation.

“I heard they might not be so mural-friendly just before I had open-heart surgery,” she said.

According to McNulty, restoring the bricked-up windows would have inevitably added damage to what time and the elements had done, besides taking out several sections of the mural. “Its removal was not a decision taken lightly,” he wrote.

“Unfortunately, in restoring a long abandoned historic building ... we had to make sacrifices,” he wrote.

“I was so sad to see the beige wall,” wrote Weinstein supporter Kimberly Wheaton. “Building owners are entitled to repaint their walls, but that does not mean it was a good decision.”

Caktus plans to lease ground-level space in the old Penny Furntiture building for retailers, and put company offices upstairs. To make amends, according to McNulty, the company is holding a public meeting sometime soon to explain its project and take comments (check

The intent of buying and restoring the building, was to “bring more life to downtown Durham,” he wrote.

Resident Page McCullough also posted her regrets at the mural’s loss but said McNulty’s comments about how it happened “softened my attitude a bit.

“I feel the company tried, though they did not seem to reach out to her very much,” she said. “I just felt bad that she was sick and unable to make her case.”

“Durville is getting too cool, really,” McCullough, said, reiterating a point from her Facebook post: “Durham is getting too cool to be cool very fast.”


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