Thousands sign petition to save Salem mural as city leaders say they’re not trying to remove it

A mural on the side of the building where Valley Roofing and Exteriors is located. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Following an indignant Facebook post and a petition that garnered thousands of signatures, city of Salem officials this week went on the offensive saying they haven’t leveraged a fine against a local business for an unpermitted mural.

The mural in question is on the side of the building at Valley Roofing and Exteriors, 4910 Turner Rd., and depicts the iconic image of six Marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. It has been up since August.

On Dec. 9, a Salem code compliance officer issued a “correction notice” to the owner of the roofing business, Jon Taylor, saying he had violated city law because the mural hadn’t been approved by the city’s Public Art Commission.

Because Taylor didn’t seek approval from the commission, the mural is currently considered a sign under city code. City law requires businesses installing signs to get a permit, and the mural is too large to meet city code requirements for signs.

Taylor didn’t respond messages left at his business seeking comment from Salem Reporter.

The city notice included three potential remedies for Taylor to be completed by Dec. 29.

“Remove the painting from the north side of the building; apply and obtain required permits for it as a sign; OR submit and receive approval from the Public Arts Commission to classify this as a mural,” Stephanie Wile, zoning inspector/code compliance officer, wrote, according to a copy of the citation obtained by Salem Reporter.

The letter said if the issue wasn’t remedied, Taylor could face citations of up to $250 per day. But so far, city officials said they’ve opted not to levy fines and are continuing to work with the business owner.

Dean Howes, a friend of Taylor’s and co-owner of Vagabond Brewing, created a petition that has gathered more than 10,000 signatures from people signaling their support for keeping the mural.  

“The mural seems to have caught the eye of someone at the city who cited an anonymous complaint resulting in a removal order and pending fines. We are aware of the process for “public” artworks and have been trying to find an amicable solution that satisfies the city but have not had much luck,” Howes wrote in the petition.

Howes told Salem Reporter he started the petition to get some attention to the issue surrounding the mural.

“The more (he and Taylor) researched and discussed, the more it became clear the entire process and its rules are convoluted and don’t seem to truly benefit our community in any meaningful way,” he said in a text.

He said he hopes the city will work with Taylor to keep the mural without any “unreasonable requirements,” like granting an easement to the Public Art Commission.

When someone applies to get approval from the Public Art Commission for a mural, there’s a public hearing where the neighborhood has a chance to weigh in on the proposed art.

Then, the artist must agree to donate the mural to the city’s public art collection and maintain it for at least seven years without alterations.

Howe said he also hopes the public discussion about the mural presents an opportunity to revise the city’s rules regarding public art on private property, “so our community encourages more and not less.”

A mural on the side of the building where Valley Roofing and Exteriors is located. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

The day before the Dec. 29 deadline, mural artist Mario Jr DeLeon took to Facebook.

He said the city was forcing Valley Roofing to remove the mural or fining the business.

“We are making a petition to keep it up. Not only do they want it removed immediately. But they want it removed during the winter. Where you can’t even paint over it. What a play by the city of Salem. Remove it plus fines. Or give it to a art society and let them have their way with it. Even when we help fight the wars, they don’t want us to be talking about our contribution,” DeLeon wrote.

Salem City Councilor Vanessa Nordyke posted a response on Facebook on Dec. 29 after looking into the issue.

Nordyke wrote there was no indication Valley Roofing was being forced to remove the mural and included a response from city staff that had been emailed to city leadership.

DeLeon didn’t respond to a Facebook message seeking comment. But he commented “Thank you for clearing this up! Greatly appreciated!” on Nordyke’s post.

On Monday, the city of Salem sent out a news release saying people outside the community had misrepresented steps the city had taken and “spread false allegations of intent behind these actions.”

The release said the city’s last resort would be fines and that they’ve been working with Taylor since November.

“This is a beautiful way to honor and recognize this significant moment in our history, and the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families. We appreciate the quality of the work and its meaning for many in our community. The city’s rules for public art murals and signs do not consider the content or the craftsmanship of public art or signage,” the release said. 

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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