As easy as it might be to conclude that Berlin’s Historic District Commission dislikes the idea of having a Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley mural in particular painted on a downtown building, that would be the wrong conclusion.
Remember, this is the same body that warred with then-Mayor Gee Williams years ago over whether the Atlantic Hotel should have installed wood-framed windows instead of vinyl.
Whether people agree with the commission’s decisions or think it’s too nitpicky at times, the commission is doing what the Town Code requires it do — serve as guardians of the historic zone’s authenticity.
The code is clear on that: “The historic district commission shall be strict (emphasis added) in its judgment of plans for those structures and sites deemed to be valuable according to studies performed for districts of historic or architectural value.”
Building murals, which include some of the finest artwork produced today, were not part of the Victorian design palette. The issue, then, is not whether the Tindley mural fits in with the Victorian style, but whether any mural at all would be appropriate on any building in the historic district.
What this discussion is really about is whether Berlin’s historic district itself is worth maintaining. Most people would agree that it is, and with that they also must agree that a nitpicky historic district commission is the only way to protect the Victorian image the town wants to project.
Publicly recognizing the Rev. Tindley as one of Berlin’s most influential native sons should have been done years ago. He was more than a great writer of hymns and early gospel music, he was an extraordinary individual whose life story is as inspiring today as it was when he took a small congregation in a little Philadelphia church and built it into the nation’s largest Methodist congregation at the time.
The town should honor this remarkable man and his life message in some prominently visible fashion. But it just won’t work as a mural in the historic district.