ANN ARBOR, MI A large mural along Liberty Street depicting Woody Allen and four other famous writers has been part of the downtown Ann Arbor landscape for the past 37 years.
But since the airing of a new HBO documentary series revisiting 1992 accusations that Allen molested his 7-year-old daughter, the question of whether to remove him from the mural has resurfaced, and Allens image was defaced recently with a spray-painted X and the word rapist.
Who should replace Woody Allen on this downtown mural? a member of the Ann Arbor Townies! Facebook group asked this week, generating hundreds of responses ranging from American novelist Kurt Vonnegut to Ann Arbor-native musicians Iggy Pop and Bob Seger to Madonna, the pop star who once lived in Ann Arbor and attended the University of Michigan.
The Bookstore Mural, as its known, was painted by artist Richard Wolk in 1984 outside what was Discount Records, now the Potbelly Sandwich Shop, and Davids Books. In addition to Allen, it features Edgar Allan Poe, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka and Anais Nin.
The mural is occasionally tagged with random graffiti, but the specific targeting of Allen was unusual, said Jeff Hauptman, CEO of Oxford Companies, owner of the building, who notes his maintenance team already covered over the graffiti.
What isnt new are calls to replace Allen on the mural people ask about that about every few years, Hauptman said, indicating hes open to the idea if the citys Historic District Commission would allow it. Oxford is more than happy to listen to the public sentiment and try to do the right thing, he said.
I can appreciate the frustration people have with seeing Woody Allen on there, Hauptman said, adding whoever replaces Allen should be another writer, and he likes the idea of replacing him with a woman to have more diversity.
Hauptman said he liked the idea some suggested: the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Since she wrote legal opinions, I think that counts, he said.
She would be one of my first choices, he said, calling that his initial gut reaction, though he also likes the idea of adding a Black female writer.
The question of who could replace Allen is continuing to generate discussion in online forums.
Some of the many other suggestions from the Ann Arbor Townies! discussion include poets Amanda Gorman and Maya Angelou, science fiction writer Octavia Butler, novelists Toni Morrison and Ayn Rand, and Joe Dart, bassist for funk group Vulfpeck, which originated in Ann Arbor.
Others suggested poet Robert Frost, who taught at UM and lived in Ann Arbor in the 1920s, Ann Arbor street musicians Shakey Jake and the Violin Monster, Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, a 1971 graduate of Ann Arbors Pioneer High School.
Some of the more unlikely suggestions include wrestler Hulk Hogan, and actors Keanu Reeves and Mr. T.
Others suggested reggae musician Bob Marley, First Lady Michelle Obama and musicians Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa.
And some argue Allen should be innocent until proven guilty and shouldnt be replaced based on accusations.
Iggy Pop, who once worked in the old Discount Records store that was in the building where the mural is now painted, seemed to be a popular suggestion for replacing Allen until others pointed out an old Iggy Pop lyric: I slept with Sable when she was 13 / Her parents were too rich to do anything.
Another person pointed out Edgar Allan Poe, who is depicted in the mural, married his 13-year-old cousin when he was 27.
No actual human, someone else responded to the question of who should replace Woody Allen. We all have skeletons. Some much bigger than others.
Mural artist Richard Wolk mixes paint in September 2010 as he touches up the mural he originally painted in 1984 at the corner of Liberty and State streets in downtown Ann Arbor.Melanie Maxwell | The Ann Arbor News
Wolk, who has come back to touch up the mural a number of times over the years, couldnt be reached for comment, but he said in 2010 he chose Allen because of the murals proximity to both the State and Michigan theaters. And since Allen is both a writer and filmmaker, he definitely counts, Wolk said in 2010.
Hauptman recalled there was a proposal many years ago to modify the building, which would have included removing the section of the mural with Allen on it. The Historic District Commission wouldnt allow that to happen, he said.
If the commission tells him the mural itself is not protected, Im open to change, Hauptman said, noting the commission controls modification of facades in the historic district.
Since the mural was painted after 1944, it is not considered historic, said City Planner Jill Thacher, the citys historic preservation coordinator. She doesnt have a record of the commission denying a building modification that would have impacted the mural, she said.
The mural is painted on panels affixed to the buildings historic brick facade. In the early 2000s, Potbelly wanted to remove the portion including Allen to expose an original wood and glass storefront entrance along Liberty Street, but the commission was against modifying the mural, Hauptman said.
Given that, Oxford has felt kind of stuck when people have asked over the years about replacing Allen, he said.
But that may no longer be the case.
The citys historic preservation code chapter was replaced with a new one in 2008, Thacher said.
The mural could be altered today with an HDC staff approval from me, as long as the new content isnt advertising something and the area of paint isnt expanding, she said, adding its good that its painted on panels and not the original brick.
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