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Emerging Oakland high-rise to cover beloved mural

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“Vintage,” a 2016 piece by an anonymous street artist, will soon be a real hidden gem

A construction site in front of a mural painted on the side of an Oakland building depicting an elderly woman listening to heavy metal music.
Photo from October. Construction has of course progressed since then.
Adam L Brinklow

Back in March, developer Lennar Multifamily broke ground on 449 17th Street, a new 33-story, mixed-use high-rise with more than 250 homes in downtown Oakland, right on the corner of 17th and Broadway. When completed, it will stand as one of Oakland’s tallest buildings.

The development brings new housing and commercial space to the intersection, conveniently located on a former parking lot smack dab in between two BART stations. It would be hard to pick a more prime spot.

The only problem with this location is that it’s also right next to Jimmy’s Deli and the Academy of Chinese Culture on 17th Street, the site of a massive mural by anonymous New England street artist Believe In People (BiP).

BiP painted the piece, titled Vintage, depicting an elderly woman rocking out to thrash metal, on the side of the building overlooking the parking lot in 2016.

BiP has produced several large-scale murals in San Francisco and has plans for several more, but Vintage is his only Oakland piece. When the 33-story tower is complete the mural will remain—but of course, no one will be able to see it.

In a statement to Curbed SF, Michael Atto, a spokesperson for BiP (who generally declines interviews and never shows his face in public, working on murals while wearing a full-body smock and painter’s mask), said:

We have no information about the new building obscuring the mural and unfortunately have not been contacted by the city, contractor, or architectural firm. It would be wonderful to work with builders to continue the tradition of art at that location and we are publicly open to it.

However, as much work as these murals take for us to produce [and] as hard as it is to see our buildings disappear, this is also an unavoidable aspect of public art. We are completely thankful for the time we had and happy to continue working as hard as possible to put large projects downtown for the public.

Proposals for construction at 449 17th Street predates the painting of the mural itself, so this development with the development is not exactly a surprise. Still, it’s a shame.

On the other hand, maybe this is another timely reminder that nothing lasts forever. As construction continues and Vintage becomes a truly vintage work, Oakland pedestrians should take the time to admire it while it lasts.

Courtesy Lennar.