CEDAR FALLS — One of Cedar Falls’ founding fathers is keeping his eyes on its booming downtown development.
A colorful, 11-foot-tall mural of John Milton Overman, the city’s first mayor, has been created on the windowed lobby wall of a new building at 100 E. Second St. And he’s flashing a “rock on” sign to passers-by.
Artist Bret Miller was commissioned to design the piece for Eagle View Partners, which constructed the four-story building to house street-level retail and second-floor offices, with 24 apartments on the upper two levels.
“The story behind the hand was the most intriguing to me because (Overman) represents the past but the hand represents the future, and that’s an infinite future,” said Audrey Kittrell, vice president of business development for Eagle View.
“In Bret’s words, he’s saying ‘rock on, keep doing cool things and keep making Cedar Falls a cool place to live,’” she added.
Miller initially struggled to come up with an idea.
“I came down here one night and just walked around, snapped a few photos, and just wondered what the heck I could do for downtown,” he said. “I was really coming up blank.”
But he later realized he’d already had the perfect image in a smaller painting he’d completed three years earlier for a downtown gallery.
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Overman was not only the city’s first mayor, serving from 1857 to 1859. He also helped develop the Mill Race on the Cedar River near the building, donated the land for what is now Overman Park, and played a large role in many of the city’s early developments.
“I like to take old photos and put current-day imagery in it,” Miller said. “That’s why I did Overman doing the ‘rock-on’ sign, giving a nod to progress.”
The Overman mural is the largest piece the Waterloo-based artist ever created using a process of spray-painting over a layers of stencils, and it took 12 days. A series of circles were added to carry the image into the front part of the lobby.
“Every time that I put up a layer, sprayed it, and went to put up the next one I was just anxious, because if I screw up on a canvas at home I’ll tear it apart and start over,” he said. “If you screw up on a wall for a multi-million dollar building, that’s a whole other story.”
The color scheme was provided by Kim Erisman, the interior designer for the entire building.
“Those are the colors throughout the building so this ties it together,” she said. “People have already told me they see the polka dots from far, far away.”
Kittrell said several tenants have already been lined up for the ground floor retail spaces in the building and the upper floor, two-story open lofts are leased. Second-floor office space is still available.
“The reason we hired Bret is because it’s important for us to support local arts and culture but also to attract tenants with those same values,” she said. “This building we wanted to be more of an artsy building aimed more at the millennials.”