LIVINGSTON, NJ — Diners heading to dinner at Livingston’s Porto by Antonio over the weekend were taken aback when they saw that the mural on the rear wall of the building (located at 471 West Mt. Pleasant Avenue, Route 10) had been painted over in white.
Fans of the artwork took to Facebook and other outlets to express their concerns when they learned that the Livingston Planning Board had asked the owner of Porto to remove it or face a significant fine. Many were also surprised to discover that Porto by Antonio is expected to close in February of 2018.
Livingston Mayor Shawn Klein, who heard about the removal for the first time on Sunday, made it a point to discuss the situation at Monday’s council meeting in order to find out exactly what transpired.
“I understand that people in the public are upset about this,” said Klein, who added that he was saddened by this news and that it would be a shame to see the restaurant go. “It certainly never came before the elected officials—this was something that was a planning board matter. It was obviously an artwork that meant something to the community.”
The council determined on Monday that the planning board had initially established guidelines that the restaurant did not adhere to as closely as it should have. Councilman Rudy Fernandez recalled that the initial agreement was for the artwork to reflect food (rather than the portrait seen above), and acting township manager Russ Jones added that the restaurant proceeded without a permit.
Over the past few days, hundreds of residents have commented on the mural’s disappearance and the restaurant’s potential closing—many stating that the township should be doing something to save Porto by Antonio.
“I personally so loved seeing the artwork on the side of Porto’s building—what talent, never mind hard work,” said resident Lois Bogwald Vitiello. “I’ve no idea why it had to be removed (via painting over in boring white), but I’m sure there would have been a far better solution wherein this creative and beautiful artwork could have remained. I just simply, but hugely, loved seeing someone’s great expressive artwork/talent each zillion times I drove past.”
Resident Laynie Gershwin, whose family has been a loyal Porto customer since it opened, said her family “loved watching the murals being painted on the building" and was "happy to know something fun and unusual and artistic was happening for many to enjoy.” She added that the food, ambiance and staff at Porto by Antonio made the restaurant a joy to visit.
“Their sister restaurant in NYC happens to be a block from my daughter’s apartment, so she was excited to frequent both outstanding venues,” said Gershwin. “Livingston should be bending over backward to accommodate fresh ideas in restaurants and businesses in our community. As I said in my original Facebook post, shame on the thoughtless decision makers who caused this unfortunate circumstance and caused the sad and unwanted demise of Silverman’s.”
Susie Yoser Heguy was also among those who expressed disappointment in the situation.
“I just think it’s a shame,” she said. “I have lived in this town almost my entire life and it makes no sense that we can’t have something creative and different on a store front. If it was about permits/money, the town could have just fined them without forcing them to paint over that beautiful, creative mural.”
Attempts to contact owner Antonio Dinis were not returned at the time of this report. More information will be provided as it becomes available.