De-commissioning the “Dream Mural” on the east side of railroad bridge

Ward 3 City Councilor Bob Reckman is disseminating the following message via the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association Yahoo Group.


The “Dream Mural”, which is on the east side of the railroad bridge downtown is the work of local artist Leland Johnston. It features an enormous paint can and brush. The mural was installed about 20 years ago. There was considerable help with production from the community.

Funding for the “Dream Mural” came from a public competition held by the Northampton Arts Council. The competition was a way to distribute money received from the Commonwealth for Public Art.

It has lifted all our spirits since that time.

It is now is poor condition. The panels that were applied to the Bridge have begun to fail after almost 20 years of exposure to the elements. Please take a look at it next time you are downtown. I had not looked at it closely for many years and was surprised by [its] poor condition. The painting is on a special paper faced signboard. The colors are faded; the paper veneer is failing and rotting wood is now exposed.

Restoration of the “Dream Mural” has been an on-going W3NA concern and topic of discussion since the spring of 2006. Since that time, we have had discussions with the artist, the Parking Director, the Arts Council, the Chamber, and the BID. We have made several attempts to contact the Railroad. In fact, our efforts to improve the condition of the railroad bridges throughout the ward (by painting them) began with the “Dream Mural” discussion.

Restoring the mural does NOT appear to be an option.

  • The artist does not have the time to work on the mural and he is not interested in restoring it. Mr. Johnston believes the mural should come down.
  • Restoring the mural would require extensive work: the structure would need to be disassembled, new panels painted and then put in place.
  • Traffic stoppages and heavy equipment would be required.
  • The cost of replacement is estimated to be at least $15,000.
  • No one, including the Arts Council, the Chamber, and the BID have this kind of money to devote to the restoring the mural, even as a joint project.
  • Even if the city had the wherewithal to restore the mural, the railroad (who owns the bridge) has never responded to our joint request (the city, W3NA, and the Chamber) seeking permission to access the bridge and restore the mural.
It appears that the only option we have under the circumstances is deciding when to remove the mural. The key questions are:

  • When is the “Dream Mural” so deteriorated it is an eyesore?
  • When does the deteriorating “Dream Mural” become a public safety concern?
In my opinion, the mural has crossed the line into eyesore and safety concern. I ask that citizens take a few moments at their earliest convenience to examine the mural and ask themselves the same questions.

“Removing the mural” means that only the painted panels would come down. The steel that was welded to the bridge to attach the panels would remain. The portions of the bridge itself that were painted as part of the mural would not be changed. The Arts Council has about $900 set aside from insurance claims against trucks that hit the bridge. This would be enough money to remove the mural. The parking division and the BPW would do the work.

Most people do not realize that there are two separate railroad bridges at this crossing. The mural is on a bridge that can only accommodate one set of tracks. This bridge is in poor structural condition and cannot accommodate rail service. It you look at the north side supports at street level you will see they are far from plumb. If passenger rail service returns to Northampton, the bridge closest to Main St. (which can accommodate two sets of tracks) is the one that will be used.

It is my hope that if the mural is removed, this will inspire the BID to make some improvements to the railings and lighting in that area and to power wash the stone abutments. These changes would certainly improve the overall appearance of this gateway to our City. Removing the mural would also present an opportunity for someone to step forward with a new idea about how we might enhance the face of the bridge and continue to welcome everyone to our downtown.

Many of us have affection for the mural, including me. I wanted to let you know that it may be removed this fall. If you have any questions about this issue, please contact me at

Bob Reckman
Northampton City Councilor for Ward 3

See also:

Google Street View of Bridge Street Showing Dream Mural
[condition of mural may have deteriorated since this picture was taken]

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