"I told the artist not to paint a bunch of people running across the side of a building," said Edna Wade, who for 10 years has led Riverdale's Beautification Committee. "They may like that in Baltimore, but that's not Riverdale. And none o those splashy California colors. That's not Riverdale either."

What is Riverdale? Come mid-September the answer will be on the wall of a building at the intersection of East-West Highway and Route 1, when Riverdale becomes the first Prince George's community to host an outdoor mural.

Sponsored by the arts division of the department of parks and recreation of The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Prince George's County murals project is part of an extensive program to bring art to the people.

Although several large cities, such as Baltimore and Los Angeles, have used wall art to revitalize neighborhoods, the Prince George's program marks the first use of outdoor murals in a suburban area. Riverdale's mural is one of six to be placed throughout the county.

Edna Wade and ber Beautification Committee had long dreamed of putting a mural on the corner building at Route 1 and East-West Highway. "This is what we've been trying to do for years," Wade said.

But lack of money and legal tangles blocked their efforts. They did so much of the groundwork, though, and when funds became available, they were ready.

Funding for the murals project is coming from two federal sources. The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act will pay for the artists. Community Development block grant funds will be used for supplies and equipment. In all, about $40,000 been allocated for the six murals.

Everyone agreed that the mural should represent Riverdale, said John Ford, the artist for the mural, but a search was necessary to identify Riverdale. On weekends, Ford said, he went bicycling around the town.

When historian Ann Ferguson showed Ford pictures from Riverdale's past, Ford surprised her with some facts of his own, Ferguson said. Ford's grandfather, Walter Ford, had been a Riverdale town councilman.

"When I applied for the mural project I never suspected I'd be painting in the town where my grandfather lived," Ford said.

Ford and representatives of the community decided that Riverdale meant two things: A special kind of architecture and a special relationship between the old and the young.

In the mural an older man and a young boy will be sitting together on the steps of a Victorian house.

"Riverdale will like it. It has that homey look," siad Edna Wade. "I can't wait to see it up."

From one side of the porch an older woman will be gazing at the two of them.

"Maybe people driving by will be curious enough to talk about it in their cars," said Ann Ferguson. "Maybe they'll wonder why the old man and the boy are there together. Perhaps they'll realize something can be gained from talking to the old."

Due to structural problems with the building wall the mural is being painted on 10 panels, which will then be mounted on the site. Ford and his two apprentice artists are painting Mondays through Fridays at the Calvert Mansion, 4311 Riverdale Rd. in Riverdale.