May 16

What’s Up at 1021 Chestnut Street?

If you’ve been out enjoying the spring weather in Center City, you may have noticed a blast from the past: figures walking by wearing 1940s fashion, old books on architecture and urban planning, all bringing attention to the long-shuttered Mercantile Library. Built by the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Mercantile Library held texts related to trade businesses, and this midcentury modern façade has been empty for quite some time. Now, the wall is full of color and action, bringing history to life with a temporary mural from Hagopian Arts. Check out the before and after, and learn more below from artist Kala Hagopian.


How does this project fit into your body of work? 

Organic imagery and patterning is a part of my work in general, so that’s me bringing my creative self into this project. I have a project that is specifically honed in on that naturalistic inspiration called the Eco Mural Project, and it’s environmentally themed murals that we’re putting up in West Philly and other neighborhoods as well, so that’s a huge part of my work. I think incorporating this beautiful natural imagery with this urban environment is kind of a neat thing to do. And I did a mural for the Kensington Free Library a while ago.

A very different kind of library! 

Definitely. The mural is in the children’s section, and it’s actually a memorial for one of the librarians there that passed away. With this new mural, I’m looking more at the history of the library and I wanted to honor that.

It's almost like a memorial for this library that's not a library anymore. 

That’s actually something that I’ve been thinking about a lot since we started this project, just the fact that libraries are these cultural epicenters and as we become more and more dependent on technology, people are forgetting their importance.

I’m really enjoying this project because it’s bringing light to that. I would have never thought that there was a library there, and then I found out this rich history. This mural shows the exterior of the original library in the early 1950s, with pedestrians walking by and books that span from the early 50s to the late 80s, which is the duration of when the library was opened. It’s like a snapshot of the library’s history.



  • Artist Kala Hagopian works on the Mercantile Library mural. Photo by @Hagopian Arts.

  • Artist Kala Hagopian works on the Mercantile Library mural. Photo by @Hagopian Arts.

The Mercantile Library mural was funded by Brickstone Companies.

Last updated: May 16, 2019

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