The towns merge one into another along Route 1, strung out like gaudy beads in a long and unbroken commercial strip. But now at least one town has a landmark: The wall of Yates Auto Parts fronting Route 1 at Berwyn Road has been transformed into a mural of a turn-of-the-century train station with a sign. It says Berwyn.
Months of work came to fruition last week as a professional artist and four art students from Eleanor Roosevelt High School put the finishing touches on the 20-by-108-foot signature painting that sets the neighborhood of 450 homes visibly apart from the rest of the world.
"The kids came three or four nights a week after school and every weekend since we started in September, which is pretty amazing," said Sandra Tyler, president of the nonprofit Berwyn Arts Exchange, which undertook the project at the behest of the Berwyn District Civic Association.
Yates, of course, was an eager participant, providing not only the wall but also a place where the curious could come and drop some change or small bills to support the effort, which cost $13,750. That covered 65 gallons of paint, wall-cleaning, scaffolding, commissions for artists Dan Kennedy and Michael McMullen and other expenses.
Nearly $10,000 has been raised, with the city of College Park chipping in $4,000 and the Prince George's Community Foundation an additional $2,500. Individual donations made up the rest.
Neighbors also have contributed their time. Harry Pitt, who's in the construction business, added a raised roof line to the train station and filled indentations in the wall. Others applied the primer coat, which took 42 gallons. The number of neighborhood volunteers, 35, appears on the front of the locomotive.
The roadside mural harks back to another time in transportation history, when rail spurred development of the area. These days the trains continue through, but Berwyn was once a regular stop between Baltimore and Washington. Berwyn is part of College Park and is not to be confused with Berwyn Heights, an incorporated municipality east of the train tracks.
"Over the years, the neighborhood wanted something done with that corner, and nothing got done," said Tyler, a resident for more than 20 years. A mural seemed the perfect solution. The civic association asked Tyler's group to coordinate the project.
Work began in September. Kennedy first painted a 1-by-2-foot version of the mural from which he and the others worked in the larger space. "I was out there at least six or eight hours most days," he said. "When I wasn't there, I was at my studio mixing colors."
The wall contained seven indented rectangles, each measuring 8 by 7 1/2 feet, which Kennedy tried to turn into windows. Pitts filled in one with concrete sheeting, and two others are lost to the eye in foliage painted to the right of the train station.
"I saw those [vertical rectangles]. It was a challenge," said Kennedy, 64, a former steelworker and retired union employee who specializes in landscapes and portraits and maintains a studio in Greenbelt. "The rectangles really dictated the station. Then I created a mansard roof to at least create an illusion and give it a bit of depth."
In the mural, the locomotive faces ahead, with the track in front also providing an illusion of depth. Several people in period dress and a dog are also in the picture.
Kennedy said he's proud of the work but doesn't want to do any more outdoor murals. "It takes too much time. You're committed to one project, other clients fall off. You got to contend with weather. At my age, it's just too much."
But not for the students: John Norden, 15, and Emily Rose, Betsy Secules and Emily Condon-Douglas, all 16. "It looks good if you want to apply to art college," Emily Condon-Douglas noted.
And fortunately, the weather cooperated with a milder than normal fall. Only last Monday did it turn chilly, but the students worked anyway under blue skies.
The community plans to hold a dedication soon.
"It's already a landmark," said Dave Higgins, manager of the auto parts store. "We use it for giving directions to people."
CAPTION: Left, artists and volunteers work on the 20-by-108-foot mural on Route 1 in the Berwyn section of College Park. Above, artist Dan Kennedy roughs in figures on the mural, a project that required countless hours. "I was out there at least six or eight hours most days," he said. "When I wasn't there, I was at my studio mixing colors."