Historic mural found in Richmond Main Post Office basement after nearly 40 years under wraps

Elected officials, community campaigns to save Richmond post office

For decades, an historic mural capturing Richmond’s pre-WWII days was thought to have been lost and possibly gone forever.

But earlier this month, the Richmond: The Industrial City mural (see below) created in 1941 by well-known artist Victor Arnautoff was re-discovered in the basement of the Richmond Main Post Office at 1025 Nevin Ave., where it was packed away in 1976 after being prominently displayed for decades.

We learned of this re-discovery from representatives of the Richmond Museum of History, where the mural will undergo several months of delicate restoration.

art.9-30Museum officials are calling the basement find an Indiana Jones-style tale of re-discovered artwork. Its creator, Arnautoff, was an art professor at Stanford for 24 years, worked under Diego Rivera and also created the priceless City Life mural on San Francisco’s Coit Tower. Some of his most notable murals were funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Depression-era, New Deal initiative to employ the unemployed on public works projects.

Though the Richmond: The Industrial City mural was for decades displayed at the Richmond post office, it was packed away in 1976 by Nathan Zakheim, son of artist Bernard Zakheim, who was a friend and colleague of both Arnautoff and Rivera. In October of last year, Richmond Museum of History Director Melinda McCrary was informed about the lost mural by Fran Cappelletti, a Richmond native and volunteer librarian for the Ross Historical Society. The self-described “huge WPA era art enthusiast” told McCrary that Arnautoff’s piece used to grace the walls of the Richmond Main Post Office.

“The conversation piqued my interest,” McCrary said. “I just had a feeling that we were onto something big.”

After asking her board president John Ziesenhenne about the piece, she was put in touch with the former Richmond Postmaster Al Martinez, who in turn put her in touch with a post office janitor, Earic Bohanon.

“Earic went poking around the basement and found a huge crate in a room with no lights,” McCrary said. “The crate was clearly marked as the mural packed by Nathan Zakheim in October 1976.”

Beth Javens, executive director of the Richmond Convention & Visitors Bureau, called the discovery a “proud moment for Richmond.”

“This is exactly the sort of project we were designed to support, highlight and celebrate,” Javens said. “Our hats are off to the Richmond Museum and everyone involved in this effort. ”

Officials with the Richmond Museum of History hope to have the mural ready to display by year’s end.

Long lost artwork wasn’t all that was discovered in the post office’s basement. At about the same time the artwork was found, the Richmond main branch was temporarily closed late last month after mold was discovered in the basement. The branch reportedly reopened to the public on Sept. 2.


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