Manhattan has always been synonymous with adornment. Dior and Tiffany have their basecamps in that illustrious neighborhood, and there are few places the eye can rest without seeing some manner of decoration or adornment. No exception are the walls of the place, many still featuring the careful detailing of the late 19th century.
In 1974, artist Richard Haas, charmed by exactly that detailing, took over the five-story high, 75-feet wide canvas of an uncharacteristically blank brick wall to continue the cast-iron facade of the front of the building, at 112 Prince Street. It’s an elegant mural, six false stories of painted columns windows, some open, some dark and some lit, and one occupied by a painted cat, done in the trompe l’oeil (literally: fool the eye) style. Art critics of the time credit it with relaunching the use of trompe l’oeil in contemporary muralism, soon to be imitated around the world.
It was his first outdoor public work, and Haas, now 79 years old and still painting, fears he will outlive it.
The New York Times calls the current state of the mural ‘demolition by neglect.’ Only the fourth false floor of windows is still free of graffiti, and weathering will erase those in a few more years.
The owners of 112 Prince Street are in favor of repairing the work, but estimates for the repair are around the area of $200,000. While fund-raising efforts are underway, it’s a long shot.
The Haas mural is not currently protected as a designated landmark, though much of the neighborhood is. It has already been restored once, in the mid-1980s.