Several years ago, Washington developer Mark G. Griffin was riding in a cab in Chicago and saw an incredible building of arches and domes. But, when he got close, Griffin realized the building actually was an illusion, a mural painted on the blank wall of a nondescript high-rise.
The same thing happened a year later in Milwaukee.
"By then I was thinking, 'D.C. has got to have one of these fantastic murals,' " Griffin said this week. "And now it will."
The Wynmark Development Corp., owned by Griffin and his partner Richard W. Naing, has commissioned architectural muralist Richard Haas to create a seven-story mural on three walls of its Lincoln Building, a 1923 high-rise across from Ford's Theatre on 10th Street NW.
Haas is noted for his realistic portrayals of buildings, and his works have become centerpieces for such cities as Boston, New York, St. Louis and Chicago, Griffin said.
Work on the mural, designed by Haas in his New York studio, began on the Lincoln Building Monday as professional painters transferred cartoons of his drawings onto brick. When finished, the multicolored mural will depict tall, narrow arches straddled by Lincoln in various phases of his life. The Old Post Office and the Lincoln Memorial will appear behind the arches, with steps leading down to the ground.
"It's uncanny how three-dimensional they appear," Griffin said.
The Wynmark Development Corp. has restored a number of historic properties in the area, but it is not spending $60,000 on a Haas mural for aesthetics alone.
Like many developers, Griffin said, he hopes the artwork will enhance the value of his building, which he said is the only high-rise office condominium in the city. For several years, local developers have been commissioning sculpture and artwork as a way to make their buildings more attractive than others. An attractive building can draw tenants and buyers, they say, and can increase rents and sales.
Griffin said condominiums in the Lincoln Building will sell for $150 to $210 per square foot.
"There are a lot of developers spending money on art these days," Griffin said. "We're so happy with this mural, we are considering commissioning Haas for another of our buildings in Washington." He said the Haas work is Washington's first major mural.
Griffin said he considers the Haas mural to be a permanent artwork because the artist is using a special German-manufactured paint reported to last a minimum of 100 years.
"There is an initial question about spending a significant amount of money on a mural when you think it could fade in 10 or so years," he said. "But we are convinced this is as permanent as a sculpture and will become another noted Washington landmark."