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Up Against the Wall

Posted 8/1/2001

Bob Dylan might soon end up blowing in the wind, along with Bob Marley, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. The quartet of historic/artistic giants are among Waverly's "Friends"--specifically, their mugs adorn a nearly 70-foot-long mural called "A Little Help From Our Friends" that has enlivened the north side of 3333 Greenmount Ave. since 1996. Other wall-of-famers include Negro Leaguer Leon Day, underground railroader Harriet Tubman, Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Gang, and environmental consciousness-raiser Rachel Carson. (No, the bald gent on the mural's right side isn't Telly Savalas; it's local philanthropist Robert Levi.)

These prominent figures of past and present face a powerful foe: the "gas station of the future." At a community meeting a few weeks back, oil conglomerate BP Amoco put forth a proposal to convert an Amoco station at 33rd Street and Greenmount into a glitzy new BP gas station/convenience store/café. The present station would be razed, along with two buildings north of it: the long-shuttered Chinese restaurant Uncle Lee's (where, in days of yore, the Nose waited in long lines for the zippy Szechwan beef) and the Safe and Smart Center, a community-outreach facility and home of the "Friends." Safe and Smart's lease at 3333 Greenmount expires in about two years.

"It's a terrible feeling," says the work's creator, radio personality and muralist-about-town Bob Hieronimus (aka WCBM's Dr. Bob). "That mural is like a child to me." (Hieronimus' show, 21st Century Radio, explores all things trippy, paranormal, and otherworldly, which perhaps explains why "Friends" includes a big-eyed extraterrestrial and the Beatles' Yellow Submarine.)

"[The mural's] images stand for community participation and self-governing," says Zoh Hieronimus, Bob's wife, who helped raise the $35,000 in donated funds used to create the mural. "Now we have the potential for a multibillion-dollar corporation to come in and bash it to smithereens. And to knock out Rachel Carson to put in a gas station is pretty ironic."

The BP proposal isn't making many friends in Waverly either. Winkie Campbell-Notar, program manager for the community's Baltimore Main Streets program, a commercial-revitalization effort, fears the gas-station complex will be an eyesore and will change the nature of the neighborhood. "Based on the preliminary drawings, it seems very large," she says. "We're concerned about keeping the pedestrian character of Greenmount Avenue."

So will gas triumph over Gandhi? It's too early to say. John Curry, the BP spokesperson the Nose was steered to, could offer no specific info about the status of the Waverly proposal. But he did rhapsodize about BP's next-gen stations--known as BP Connects--where oil changes are out and "solar-powered canopies," at-the-pump Internet access, and "top of the line" coffee shops are in. Several have already opened around the country. (You can take a virtual tour of the "gas station of the future" at www.bp.com/ pressoffice/bpconnect/virtualtour/ default.htm.)

Zoh Hieronimus is unimpressed. Tapping the mural's Yellow Submarine imagery, she has a term for BP's would-be wall-bashing bigwigs. "They're Blue Meanies!" she exclaims. "They're Blue Meanies!"

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