If you have a bit of a history fetish, you too might take a passionate interest in who painted a mural that has been covered over for the past 20 years that probably depicts the Hester Street Market, which disappeared about a hundred years ago.

Description from “Freelance” in the Times of London, June 30, 2006: “On the walls of the cafeteria was a social-realist mural depicting pushcarts and peddlers on nearby Orchard Street, going about their business as if marching toward a better world.”

I’d run across Hugo Gellert earlier, described as an early social realist painter, while looking up the old boundaries of nearby Seward Park.

Hugo Gellert Biographical Timeline from Graphic Witness:
50 foot mural for Worker’s Cafeteria in Union Square, New York City; possibly the first labor mural in the United States, now lost or destroyed.
murals for Seward Park Houses in New York City.

I really do like when things intersect very neatly. I always really loved the fact that Paul Simon and Carole King recorded demo records together when they were at Queens College. So, of course, I’m really attached to the image of the old socialists arguing under a socialist-realist mural that links the site to the surrounding neighborhood, namely the ILGWU coops built by Abraham Kazan where a lot of the cafeteria regulars would have lived.

From Wikipedia, more on the Seward Park murals:
Among the frescoes, is the series that adorn the front entranceways of each of the four buildings of the Seward Park Housing Corporation, a housing cooperative with 1728 apartments, designed and built by Herman Jessor as part of the social housing cooperatives built by the Abraham Kazan and the United Housing Foundation. The series recently became the topic of controversy after the cooperative converted from its limited equity status to a fully private and market-rate residential co-op. The cooperative attempted to remove or destroy the four giant Gellert murals. The Coop board felt the socialist-style paintings were no longer representative of the people or the Lower East Side neighborhood. Note: Abraham Kazan is not Abraham Cahan, who founded the Jewish Daily Forward. Kazan built workers coops all over the city that look surprisingly (though not entirely) like Moses projects. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

I found James Wechsler online, who did his art history doctoral thesis on Gellert at CUNY. I sent him what I knew and he eventually wrote back. He says the mural doesn’t look like Gellert. Suggested Phillip Reisman, a WPA artist who used to teach at the Educational Alliance, I found when I looked him up. So, next I contacted a woman who calls herself ” a collector, consultant and writers of the period.” She telephoned me back Saturday morning and gave me instructions to send the photographs I’ve found to her here in New York. We’ll see what happens next.