1940s style ‘Snapshot’ of Diamond City adorns a downtown wall

WILKES-BARRE — It’s a busy spring day in the public square.

A blonde woman in a blue dress steps off a bright red streetcar, her black stilletos clattering briskly on the sidewalk as she walks towards a dark-haired man in a dark suit.

His tie and tightly rolled umbrella seem to match his dress. Maybe they know each other. Perhaps he expects rain, despite the azure sky and the bright sun illuminating the pink cherry blossoms and lush greenery of the square.

A bright yellow taxi drives past the cart as a man in a wide-brimmed hat enters the cafeteria and Percy Brown’s food market alone, possibly on his lunch break.

On the right, meanwhile, a Planters Peanuts delivery truck makes its rounds under the watchful eye of the Stegmaier chipmunks, happily promoting the hometown beer from a billboard overlooking the square.

This picturesque snapshot of 1940s life in Diamond City could be the setting for a crime novel, or perhaps the opening montage of a Charcoal Region film noir.

In fact, however, it is a recently completed mural in downtown Wilkes-Barre, adorning the Northampton Street garage entrance to the Lofts on South Main with many nods to the heritage of the piece.

Painted by Susquehanna County mural artist Eric Bussart, the mural was commissioned for the site by Joe Amato Properties and completed just over a week ago.

Turn heads with history

Even before it was finished, Bussart said he received many compliments and questions.

“I noticed that when people in the area came to me, they connected to these things,” said Bussart, 27, a Marywood University graduate who trained as an artist and illustrator. .

This reaction was exactly what the owners of the property had in mind.

“Joe Amato Properties appreciates the town of Wilkes Barre and its rich cultural history. The subject of the mural was chosen to pay homage to one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks as well as some of the businesses that call the city home,” said Liana M. Kissinger, Director of the Operations and Director of Leasing at Joe Amato Properties. .

Planters Peanuts and Stegmaier Beer are, of course, brands with deep local roots that are still Wilkes-Barre icons.

Percy Brown’s may not resonate with young readers, but for generations it was a popular gathering place in downtown Wilkes-Barre until the business closed in 1981. Although depicted on instead for artistic purposes, Percy Brown’s was actually on East Northampton Street, occupying the site where Movies 14 now stands, a short walk from the garage entrance and the mural.

Trams like the one in the mural bid farewell to the city in 1950, but the painting also features a Martz Lines bus passing what is now the Lucerne Bank building, two elements of the local scene who stay with us today.

A prolific artist

Bussart is from Ambler, a small community in Montgomery County near Philadelphia. He came to northeast Pennsylvania as a college student and settled here after graduation.

So far, Bussart has 48 murals to his credit, spanning from Brooklyn, NY to Ambler. Many are in the greater Scranton area, though he has also completed several in Luzerne County, including at the Gateway Shopping Center in Edwardsville. Many are on public view, although some are private interior commissions. They can be seen on ericbussart.com.

“It’s been the mainstay of my income for three or four years, murals,” Bussart said.

He also worked with Joe Amato Properties before, so the partnership was familiar. The group was pleased with the way Bussart translated their Public Square mural concept into reality.

“We wanted to finish the mural as soon as time permitted and Eric was able to accommodate that request,” Kissinger said.

Tasked with the commission, Bussart turned to a 1940s black-and-white photo of a carriage waiting for passengers in the square as his starting point. It was a winter scene, which he transformed into a rich polychrome spring, developing the landscape from there,

“I started researching what was on either side of the photo and added things – people, vehicles,” he said, along with local historic businesses mentioned.

It took Bussart about eight days to complete the downtown mural, working 11-hour days and using a folding ladder.

What might surprise those viewing the richly detailed work is that much of it is spray painted.

“Anything I can do with spray paint, I do with spray paint,” he said, explaining that the medium adheres better to concrete block.

“There are pores, little holes, and if you run a brush over it, there will be all of these like white spots,” he said. “And it’s just faster.”

The eye-catching end result of Bussart’s efforts won’t be the final mural for Joe Amato Properties, however, as the Wilkes-Barre Township company plans to use them to enhance other sites.

“All of the feedback we’ve received so far has been positive and we’re happy to know that others at Wilkes-Barre appreciate the art,” Kissinger said.

David H. Henry