The mural on the side of the building that houses the Grill Room in Portland will be demolished as part of a $2 million restoration of 80 Exchange St. Staff photo by Derek Davis

A popular and deceptive mural overlooking Tommy’s Park in Portland’s Old Port will be removed in the coming months as part of a $2 million renovation of 80 Exchange St.

However, unlike with other murals that have disappeared in recent years – including the former Asylum mural and one on the east side of 48 Free St. – plans are in the works to find a new, historically appropriate replacement for the Exchange Street mural, said James Brady, who is overseeing the project.

Brady said he is working with the Maine College of Art to figure out a way to choose an artist to decorate what will essentially be a 56-foot-by-56-foot canvas in the heart of the Old Port.

“The wall that mural is on is in pretty rough shape and needs to be repaired,” Brady said. “We would likely do a local fundraising effort to raise the capital to do a (mural) project like that.”

The existing mural loosely depicts the old U.S. postal building that once stood across Exchange Street on what is now Post Office Park. The post office was demolished in 1965, according to Deb Andrews, the city’s historic preservation manager.

Andrews said the current mural was painted in 1985 by Chris Denison, a local artist. The mural is a trompe l’oeil, which is French for “deceive the eye,” and it replaced another mural that was painted in 1976.

Mark Gatti, who has been selling hot dogs at Tommy’s Park since 1983, still remembers that previous mural, which he said depicted a scene “from the 1890s or something.”

This mural will be demolished as part of a restoration project that’s expected to be completed by Labor Day. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“It was a street corner scene with a few stores and a gentleman and a lady in period outfits, and that was a beautiful mural,” he said.

Gatti says he’ll miss the mural of the old postal building, and hopes a new version of that same mural might go up in its place.

“It’s part of our history,” he said. “I think of it as a great testimony to that old building that was there for so many years.”

Brady said that the building’s renovation and restoration, which got underway in January, will include changes to the storefronts for the Grill Room and Swiss Time. He said both businesses have renewed their leases to remain in their current location, but at least one of them may close briefly during the restoration process, he said.

According to city records, 80 Exchange St. was built in the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire of 1866, which incinerated one-third of Portland’s downtown. It stands out from other nearby buildings because its gambrel roof mimicked the warehouse designs more commonly seen on Commercial Street.

The 80-86 Exchange St. building is known as Horatio Jose Block. Jose, a dry goods merchant, real estate developer and railroad investor, also built Centennial Block at 93-95 Exchange St. and Printers Exchange Block at 97-101 Exchange St., city records show.

Brady said the renovation is expected to be completed by Labor Day, but it will take some more time before the mural is added.

“It was a building that needed some love and we’re giving it a lot of love,” Brady said.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad contributed to this report.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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