WESTFIELD, NJ — A 50s-era pink Cadillac under bright blue skies, a banner that boasts “Welcome to Westfield” and the visage of the Woolworth’s that once occupied a space in Downtown Westfield are among the scenes from a time long past coming to life in a new mural at Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices & Ice Cream in Westfield.
The shop coming to 524 Central Ave. is the first business in the town to have a mural in a public space, Cathy Jensen, owner of Ralph’s Famous in Westfield, said in an interview.
“We are the first public mural in Westfield ever,” said Jensen, who added that she appreciates the support of the Westfield Public Arts Commission, which approved the design. “The ordinance was actually developed as our mural was going through the process of being approved.”
The mural, which is about 50 feet wide by 15 feet tall, includes scenes from the 1950s because it is time that many can remember that families came together, she said.
“What we want to depict in this mural is a time for family, which is what we have with Ralph’s,” Jensen said. “We want people to come with their loved ones, whoever they may be and sit outside by the mural and spend some time together.”
The mural also brings the past together with the present with scene of Westfield High School.
“I wanted to dedicate part of the mural to the class of 2020 — the students of 2020 — and students everywhere, really,” Jensen said. “Students went through a tough time in 2020. What surprised me and astounded me, really, was how strong and resilient they are.”
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The mural, which is in the process of being painted, also includes bubbles showing scenes from the past including the Woolworth’s that was once on East Broad Street prior to its closure in the late 90s, and an interactive component, where customers will be invited to pretend that they are blowing bubbles.
“There’s a couple of these bubble blowers in the mural,” she said. “And they are large enough that people can actually go and pretend that they’re blowing through them.”
Prominent scenes from around Westfield being included in the design also are the Addams Family house, the train station and the World War I monument, Jensen said.
“A little bit of normalcy goes a long way these days,” she said. "That's what we hope to bring to everyone who comes to our Ralph's."
While Ralph’s was previously slated to open this fall, Jensen said that COVID-19 had sidetracked the work when materials that needed to be shipped from overseas could not be brought over in time for the fall season. Since the franchise does not typically open during the winter, she said, the store will open in March.
But the public will be able to enjoy the mural prior to that as Jensen said the goal is to complete the mural, hopefully by Thanksgiving, a time for giving.
Richard Janusz, the Westfield-based artist, who has been working on the mural said he has secured more than 50 cans of spray-paint for the project. Janusz said has worked on murals in Bradley Beach and Asbury Park, and on a recent Friday evening projected the artwork on the building before tracing the line drawing.
The Westfield Public Arts Commission played a role in helping to craft the design.
“Cathy’s business is the first business under the new ordinance to request a mural on private property for a business,” said Councilwoman Dawn Mackey, the council’s representative on the Arts Commission. “And so, as part of that process is that it goes to the arts commission. She brought us a rendering and since it was the first, a lot of care went into the discussion regarding whether or not the mural was suited for its location. We want to make sure we get it right because we’re hoping more businesses will take advantage.”
Mackey said they wanted the mural to transition well from the residential neighborhood it borders into the commercial district in which it is located and so with the committee’s suggestion, Jensen incorporated some additional elements such as the nod to the high school students.
Jensen had nothing but thanks for the support of Mayor Shelley Brindle, Mackey, the public arts commission, Janusz and the property owner Karl Gerkens.
“What a wonderful group of people to work with,” Jensen said. “They’re very helpful. They basically held our hands through the process — every single one of them.”
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