Aiken Design Review Board approves removal of mural from The Alley

Jul. 7—A mural that could be considered racist is going to be removed from The Alley.

The Aiken Design Review Board voted 3-1 Thursday evening to approve renovations to 140 Laurens St. S.W. — the former home of Aiken Brewing Company.

C.P. Doremus and an anonymous partner, using Did It Right LLC, purchased the building March 31 for $1 million with plans to turn it into a restaurant and bar known as Electric Eats.

Transforming the building into Electric Eats involves exterior and interior renovations. And because the building is within the Old Aiken Overlay District, transforming the exterior of the building requires approval of the Design Review Board.

Exterior renovations include removing a mural on The Alley side of the building, changing the Laurens Street front of the building and installing a bar window and a door on the building's The Alley side.

The mural, painted in 1983, features a scene of several people including one gentleman on a carriage being pulled by a horse. Beside of that gentlemen is what appears to be an African American domestic worker next to the horse pulling the carriage.

Board Chairman McDonald Law described the woman as a "servant."

Several people, including the owners of the building, have said the depiction of the African American woman is racist.

The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University describes the depiction of female African American domestic workers, known as Mammys, as the most well known and enduring racial caricature of African American women.

The museum says the caricature was created to suggest ugliness and to desexualize African American women in order to distract from the White slaveholders who had sex with their slaves.

The mural would be replaced by rotating murals to be approved by the board prior to installation.

Changing the Laurens Street front of the building includes bringing forward the recessed entry of the building from 13 feet, seven inches from the street to four feet from the street. The width of the recessed entry would also be shortened from 27 feet, six inches wide to 14 feet, 10 inches wide. The existing green awning would be taken down and replaced with a black cantilever awning.

Other changes to The Alley side of the building include the installation of a seven feet by four feet fold up window and a 9 feet wide bar and the installation of a door. Both the window and the door would be black as would the windows above and would also feature black cantilever awnings.

Vice Chairman John McMichael made the motion to approve the proposed renovations. Faith Hawks seconded his motion.

McMichael, Hawks and Law voted in favor of the motion. Ben Lott voted against it.

Lott said he applauded the efforts of Did It Right to renovate the building. He added he couldn't wait to eat there. However, he said he felt the approval would set a bad precedent allowing other "plain" buildings to come into the city. He also said he was concerned the proposal didn't fit within the board's design guidelines.

Hawks said she felt the building matched the guidelines.

Law agreed.

The approval comes after the board delayed consideration of renovations in June.

The delay allowed the designer to implement suggestions made by the board.

The original proposal would have completely eliminated the recessed entry and The Alley window was in slightly different location. Also the color and types of awnings changed.

During the delay, Did It Right also applied to and received a favorable recommendation from the Arts Commission for removing the mural. That recommendation was forwarded to Law and Planning Director Marya Moultrie for administrative approval. But they exercised their option to send its removal to the board for approval.