Arts & Theater

Iconic Tower Records mural in downtown is getting a little love

A large-scale mural has adorned the entryway of the former K Street location of Tower Records in downtown Sacramento for more than 40 years. Commissioned by Tower founder Russ Solomon in 1973, the mural is emblematic of the decade it heralds from with its bright colors and psychedelic designs.

The mural is composed of three pieces, a ceiling with a paisley-like motif spills down into two side panels each featuring the profile of a woman with blue hair and an upturned face.

Time, construction activities and the elements had taken their toll over the years, with portions of the mural almost completely being stripped away. But while Tower Records has long-since closed, efforts are underway to return this piece of Sacramento and music history to its former glory.

"It's very iconic," said Bay Miry of D&S Development. "A lot of people identify it with Sacramento and Sacramento culture."

Tower Records was a Sacramento-based music retailer that once had locations all over the world and was the famed hangout of rock stars, singers and musicians. Solomon, who died earlier this year, was also a native of the city and a long-time resident.

Restoration of the Tower mural is a part of the 700 Block redevelopment efforts currently underway on K Street by both D&S and CFY Development, which Miry says includes 17 retail spaces and 137 mixed income apartments.

Once the mural is done, it will mark the entrance to Solomon's Delicatessen, a Jewish deli named in honor of Solomon that pays homage to Tower Records. The owners of Solomon's opened their first restaurant in Davis in May, but the flagship location will be the one on K Street, which is set to open later this year. It will feature a deli on the bottom floor along with an upstairs space that will be used for bands and live performers.

“We are thrilled beyond belief that we can be a part of this project and that we will be the keepers of this beautiful part of Sacramento history, and Tower Records history,” said Jami Goldstene, co-owner of Solomon's.

When they started planning for the 700 block project, Miry said the development team was determined to restore and preserve the historically significant Tower mural.

The restoration is a part of the 700 Block Art Plan, which was drafted by the development team in collaboration with the Sacramento Redevelopment Agency and the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, according to a project press release.

The mural's restoration work was started about a month ago by a team of artists, including Seumas Coutts from M5Arts, which created the popular Sacramento art projects Art Hotel and Art Street.

Coutts is working with three other local artists chosen for the project, Shaun Burner, Sophie Aronson and Franceska Gamez, but he said other artists are occasionally brought in to help.

Since its conception, the mural restoration project has been associated with some well-known Sacramentans, including Ali Youssefi, a young CFY developer who died earlier this year following a battle with cancer.

About three and a half years ago, Coutts said Youssefi approached him about doing a conservation report for the Tower mural, which would evaluate the state of the artwork and what would need to be done to restore it.

The process also involved mapping the mural by using what was left of it and going through old photos, along with consulting people familiar with the work, Coutts said, eventually stitching the artwork's original image back together.

Next, Coutts said, that information was translated into markers that now serve as guides for the artists.

“It’s basically a really large paint-by-numbers at this point," Coutts said.

The ceiling portion of the mural was exposed to the elements for about two years, Coutts said, and there were big chunks of paint coming off, while the side panels had experienced some damage from light.

But the elements shouldn't be a problem after the work is complete, Coutts said, due to careful selection of materials and vigilance during the restoration process.

"The mural should contain its integrity for 300 years,” Coutts said.

Another local expert who helped Youssefi was Dennis Newhall, founder and curator of the Sacramento Rock & Radio Museum.

Two artists, Mitchell Aronson and Frank Carson, were commissioned by Solomon to complete the mural back in the ’70s. Newhall said the museum had a collection of work Carson did for Tower Records over the years and he also was able to contact Aronson and see if he was interested in helping preserve the mural.

As they got to talking, Newhall and Aronson realized they were about the same age and had at one point been in Sacramento at the time.

When Aronson was lying on his back on a scaffolding painting the mural, Newhall said he was a DJ for K-ZAP.

They talked about three times over the phone but in April of last year, about two weeks after their final conversation, Newhall called Aronson only to find out from his daughter that the artist had died.

While they were on the phone, Newhall asked Sophie Aronson if she wanted to be a part of the project – she did.

“Just the fact that Mitch’s daughter was involved with the restoration, we were happy with that,” Newhall said. “It’s a little bit of DNA."

Newhall is also working on a short documentary film about the project, which will be played on a loop inside Solomon's Delicatessen when it opens. The video will include interviews from both Solomon and Youssefi before they died, along with Sophie Aronson talking about her father.

He didn't realize how much the Tower mural meant to the community before he started working on its restoration, Coutts said, adding that day and night the artists get regular visits from people in the community who have come to check on the progress being made, tell them stories or to offer up kudos on what has already been completed.

"It’s really nice to get the community involved,” Coutts said.

That level of personal attachment is not lost on everyone working on the project.

"I remember as a kid going to Tower," Miry said. "It was a cool place to hangout.”

But Miry is just excited knowing that work on the mural will be done soon because Youssefi was such a huge fan of getting it restored.

"It is going to put a smile on Ali’s face," Miry said.

Newhall walked by the mural Thursday, and said the walls are starting to look they once did.

"Which is pretty amazing," he said.