When the holiday season rolled around, Darrell McQuiston’s first thought was to create Christmas-themed scenes in the windows of Olympia’s Kelley Building. As a property manager for The Rants Group, McQuiston is responsible for both the upkeep of the sites they manage and those properties’ aesthetic appeal.

Months of protests had taken their toll on the historic Kelley Building, which was boarded up from May through December.
Photo courtesy: The Rants Group

But then he realized how fleeting any seasonal display would be. “It would be here and gone and then you’re left with the Christmas theme all over the windows,” says McQuiston. “I decided to look at options that would last long term and also help us lease the space. That’s how we came up with the idea of a mural.”

The Rants Group took over management responsibilities for the historic property in 2016. Erected in 1926, the Kelley building is located on Jefferson Street, a block away from City Hall. To install anything new, the first step was to tear down the boards that had been in place to protect windows throughout much of 2020 amid historic levels of civil unrest.

The building had been tagged with graffiti and several local artists had also created original work on the boards, which will be donated to a good cause, according to McQuiston. “This is the second go-round we’ve had with plywood,” he notes. “We had the entire building boarded up. When we thought the unrest was over, we removed the first set of boards and donated them, but then we had to board it back up again.”

Protestors and local artists had drawn art and messages on the boards, which will be donated to a charitable cause. Photo courtesy: The Rants Group

With the idea of a mural in mind, a conversation with Wicked Pie owner Jessica Boehme led McQuiston to her partner, artist Brian Papa. “We came up with a concept of something peaceful that wouldn’t really be a message,” he says. “I left it up to the artist to determine what should go there.” Papa owns Papa Studios, a business that provides pinstriping and sign painting services in addition to commissioned works. The new mural depicts a sun rising over Mount Rainier with the words: “Olympia. We’re Strong Together.”

The new windows and mural fit with the overall goals of the building’s owner. Before the pandemic hit, the plan was to remodel the building from top to bottom, says McQuiston. “We were in the process of getting estimates for putting in brand new windows, redoing the entire face of the building, and redoing the parapets and plastering,” he explains. “These plans were in the works when all of this started. We had a quote for close to half a million dollars to upgrade the building, and we were moving forward.”

Artist Brian Papa, owner of Papa Studios, designed and installed the new mural which spans two sides of the building. Photo courtesy: The Rants Group

Then the pandemic began, and the project was put on hold as commercial tenants attempted to navigate its economic impact. Finders Keepers Antique Mall was one long-term tenant with approximately 33 vendors. One of them contacted McQuiston to see if there was a way to keep the business going but ultimately found that the restrictions imposed to contain COVID-19 were too daunting. Meanwhile, the owner let another long-term tenant out of a multi-year lease at no charge, given the circumstances. “She allowed that tenant to walk away,” says McQuiston. “She wanted to enable the business to exit gracefully.”

Finders Keepers was still in the building when the first protests started, and their insurance company covered approximately $5,000 worth of broken windows from the resulting damage. For a period, the building was boarded up but once those protections came down, more windows were shattered. “We held off on replacing them once we realized this was not going to stop,” says McQuiston. “Everything was completely boarded up from May to December to prevent any further damage.”

McQuiston hopes the mural will promote healing after a year of civil unrest as well as the economic revitalization of downtown Olympia. Photo courtesy: The Rants Group

The antique mall is now gone, but when the economy recovers, he hopes to get a similar tenant or another type of retail business leasing the space. “Antique stores are great for foot traffic and they create a space for multiple small operators to set up shop,” he notes. “That’s important for the local economy.”

Even before the mural was in place, the response from the community was positive. Other businesses began removing boards from their storefronts as word spread. “People were thanking me for what I was doing,” says McQuiston. “We’re the biggest display of boards in town because we’re on a main thoroughfare uptown. We wanted to get the word out that we’re open for business and it’s time for healing. That message has already snowballed.”

To learn more, visit The Rants Group website or call 360.943.8060.

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