As of last week, thoughts of grime, rust, graffiti, and peeling paint are just a memory thanks to the dedication of “501 See Streets,” a non-profit that worked with the community to introduce a new mural on the west wall of the underpass.
The mural includes a tribute to legendary punk rock band the Ramones, the Tudor character of Station Square, and the archways of Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, which has been given a second life as a summertime outdoor music venue.
Forest Hills native Mark Favelson and his daughter were among the numerous fans.
“I am very happy that the Ramones were given positive recognition as creative artists originating from Forest Hills,” said Favelson. “Capturing our architectural charm is also very nice, especially at a time when Austin Street is seeing less brick and Tudor structures and more commercialized glass buildings.”
The stadium's concert managers wanted to improve the community, so Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi’s office introduced them to Auburndale resident Noah Sheroff, founder and executive director of 501 See Streets, who in turn enlisted the help of street artists Crisp and Praxis.
“We hope the mural becomes a point of pride and a catalyst for more positive change,” said concert manager Jon McMillan. “Our attitude has always been that if we can dream something, we can make it happen, but projects like the stadium and the mural don't happen in a vacuum. Community support is key.”
501 See Streets has joined forces with street artists citywide, and its first project was in July 2014 with a mural depicting ballplayers near Yankee Stadium.
“We always try to find community groups, small businesses, elected officials, civics, and BIDs to work with, and determine which themes are appropriate,” Sheroff said. “Murals are a way of deterring graffiti, and in such a rapidly changing city, there’s also a need to preserve and signify what once was. Just look at Queens, and there are many great people to be celebrated.”
Sheroff has received positive feedback on the project in Forest Hills.
“When seniors say how beautiful the mural is, to me it means the most since it appeals to people who have lived here for a long time,” he said.
Sheroff himself is not an artist (“I am lucky to draw a straight line with a ruler,” he jokes.), but when he lived on Long Island he would often take street art tours. While in a class at NYU, he developed the idea for 501 See Streets.
In addition to the murals, part of his organization’s mission is to conduct workshops for community residents and at-risk youth on art education and cultural expression, and foster relationships between residents and artists.
Crisp, a 39-year-old native of Australia who resides in Bogatá, Colombia, said he took pride in overhauling a “dark and sketchy” space.
“We designed the images from photos and free-styled the background,” he explained. “It took approximately a week to prepare the designs and cut stencils out of cardboard, and then three days to paint it.”
Crisp has painted street murals for six years, including in Astoria, Bushwick and Manhattan, but began painting as a child, inspired by his parents, who are also artists.
“Bogotá has a very prolific street art scene, so I met some artists who encouraged me to do my work on the street, since I started on paper and on canvas,” he said. “I travel a lot to different parts of the world to paint, since street art is about giving something back to the community.
“This is the first time I visited the area and it’s stunning,” he said of Forest Hills. “It’s an honor to be invited, and we would love to paint more murals in the neighborhood.”
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Forest Hills native Antonella Spaventa. “I would like to see more murals, such as on the opposite wall and at the Ascan Avenue trestle.”
Later this week one of her wishes will come true, as work will begin on a tennis-themed mural on the east wall of the underpass. Hevesi said he hopes the mural is just the beginning, and that local artists can get involved as well.
“I look forward to continuing to work with artists in our community and making efforts to further beautify our district,” he said.