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Mona Lisa facelift and condos create art
and high-style housing in the Short North

By Jennifer Hambrick
September 2005

Newly refurbished art and living quarters in the Short North are putting enigmatic smiles on people’s faces.

Artist Curtis Goldstein’s restoration of the mural of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at 742-754 N. Pearl Street on July 22 anticipated by less than three weeks the August 9 unveiling of the first completed unit of the same building’s Mona Lisa Condominiums. The Wood Companies, the Short North’s premiere developers, are funding both projects.

Goldstein’s renovation marks the second time the mural has been restored. It was last restored in 2001 by Brian Clemons, who painted the original mural in 1990.

The mural’s restoration was brought about by the condo conversion. According to Wood Companies President Sandy Wood, the building’s conversion into condominiums required the wall bearing the mural to be waterproofed. Goldstein said a roof leak caused some of the mural’s paint to crack along the mortar lines of the brick wall on which it is painted and that some of the paint was removed when the wall was power washed.

Goldstein said the mural renovation gave him the opportunity to correct both technical and aesthetic problems.

“There was damage from age and sun bleaching,” Goldstein said. “All the color subtleties were gone. The last time it was repainted, the draftsmanship was not up to par. The eyes were crooked, the signature Mona Lisa smile was gone, there was no detail in the hair, the jaw line was incorrect. I corrected the drawing this time around.”

Chris Steele, artist and President of Citizens for a Better Skyline, a Columbus not-for-profit agency devoted to pedestrian-friendly development and historic preservation, came up with the idea for a mural based on Da Vinci’s masterpiece in the late 1980s and collaborated with Joe Kuspan on the design concept. Steele and Citizens for a Better Skyline brought the project to fruition with funding from the Ohio Arts Council, the Greater Columbus Arts Council, Citizens for a Better Skyline and the Wood Companies.

Steele said the Mona Lisa was a logical subject for a mural in the Short North. “It’s the art district and it’s one of the most famous Italian paintings. A lot of artists have done a lot of things to Mona.”

The Short North’s mural, in which the Mona Lisa is positioned on its side rather than upright, continues this tradition. Goldstein sees the sideways Mona Lisa as a symbol of the Short North’s unique role as Columbus’ arts district.

“If it had been the Mona Lisa straight up, it wouldn’t have been as interesting,” Goldstein said. “They turned it on its side and made it fun. The Short North is a mixture of old and new, so taking the Mona Lisa and giving it a new twist is an interesting blend of old and new.”

Also blending old and new, the upscale Mona Lisa Condominiums replace an auto body shop that once occupied the 1920s-era building. The Wood Companies plan to have all seven condominiums finished in early September. Each unit will sell in the $300,000 price range.

Wood says architects Steve Hurtt and Dean Berlon of Urban Order Architecture designed them with the urbanite in mind.

“It’s kind of a contemporary, urban loft feel,” Wood said. “They’re very urban in that they have the exposed [steel] structure and a lot of glass and steel that’s visible.”

And for Steele, the Mona Lisa name also contributes to the condominiums’ appeal. “It’s a great name,” Steele said. “I’m sure the people that live there will love it.”

© 2005 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. all rights reserved.