I recently spent an afternoon walking around East Baltimore asking residents about Steve Powers’ “Forever Together” mural (the first installment of the artist's "Love Letter to Baltimore" project). A friend of mine works with Powers, so I’ve been following the project’s progress for quite awhile, and I was curious what folks in the neighborhood thought of it. By my very unscientific survey, I’d say they love it—in fact, I couldn’t find a single person who objected.
Alvin Gentry (pictured), who’s been in the neighborhood for 62 years, gave a typical response: “It’s beautiful, really beautiful. I was talking to the artist about it before he started, and he told me he was going to paint words on those houses. I couldn’t imagine what it was going to look like, but it turned out great. You should see it at night, when it’s all lit up—it looks even better.”
Gentry lived in the 2400 block of Eager Street until two years ago when the entire block was slated for demolition. He was initially confused why Powers would paint 36 houses that would be torn down, and he’d heard, via a misleading media report, the artist was being paid handsomely to do it. Gentry said he was relieved to learn Powers actually received a modest sum, which was donated to a community group. The finished artwork “speaks for itself,” he said, before adding that he and a lot of his neighbors have been taking pictures of it.
“A lot of things around here get torn down and nobody ever notices,” said Gentry. “There’s actually a lot of history in this area people don’t know about, because it was never documented.”
He pointed out an empty lot adjacent to the painted houses. Until 10 years ago, there were eight homes there, and, as a child, he played near the rail tracks behind them. He noted that the houses were incredibly sturdy and built to withstand the persistent rumbling of passing trains.
Gentry said the empty lot where we stood used to be home to a bakery “run by Germans, who made the best cheesecake you ever tasted. The streets around here used to smell like bread every morning.”
And a boat builder once occupied a small warehouse across the street. “He made speed boats, right here on Eager Street,” said Gentry. “But you’d never know it now, would you?”
“In a few months, you’ll never know those houses were there,” he said, nodding towards the 2400 block. “And I spent most of my life in one of them. This mural, with everybody taking pictures and talking about it, is a good way to remember it. Forever.”
Gentry smiled at the allusion, nodded authoritatively, and headed towards Milton Street.