There have been some artful additions to the landscape along the West 7th Street Corridor that have captured the attention of passersby and created conversation about one of the most beloved communities within Sioux City, Iowa. In a collaboration between the city and area business owners, murals are being installed on the exterior of the 4 selected buildings with the goal to bring visibility, vitality, and important historical awareness to the West 7th Street community.
The West 7th Street Corridor has been an impactful part of the Sioux City landscape for over 160 years. Because it has been the epicenter of many cultures, ethnicities, and businesses, the area is a meaningful piece of the city’s history and a vibrant portion of the future. Through the West 7th Corridor Improvement Project, city officials and local businesses are helping to revitalize the community and give it the visibility, aesthetics, and pride that it deserves. And that includes some incredible artwork.
The first phase of the West 7th Corridor Improvement Project concentrated on reconstructing some of the hardscapes between Wesley Parkway and Hamilton Boulevard. The street construction projects have all been completed but perhaps the most anticipated portion of the project is yet to be finished; that of the murals.
Intended to celebrate the incredibly different cultures, ethnicities, industries, and religions that seamlessly blended together to form the West 7th community, the murals are a way to pay homage to the past and provide inspiration for the future. And because Sioux City, itself, has a deep appreciation for the arts, cultural equity, and business, the restoration of the beautiful community of the West 7th Street Corridor is now taking place.
While West 7th Street was intended to be the city’s main street when it was first laid out in the 1860’s, its location made it a prime spot for manufacturing businesses. These factories, like the Sioux City Foundry and Machine works which opened in 1871, relied on migrant workers for their productivity and growth.
As the manufacturing businesses grew, so did the population of immigrant workers. Small businesses saw the opportunity that arrived with the increase in population and began to open up grocery stores, bakeries, barbershops, saloons, and retail stores in the area. Many of these products and services catered to the diverse preferences of the cultures of their residents. In the mid-1880’s, Sioux City laid its first streetcar rail which opened up even more potential for commerce in the area.
Many of the area’s residents referred to West 7th Street as “the Jewish mile” as businesses owned by Jewish families were predominant along the street. While the West 7th Corridor has always been “home” for many people in the Jewish and African-American communities, over the last 20 years it has also been an inviting place for the Southeast Asian community to live, work, and thrive well, too.
As the population soared and the industries changed, so, too, did the landscape of West 7th Street. The car industry arrived and made its own impact on the buildings along 7th Street. With innovation in design, sales, and mass production, cars became more affordable and thus in higher demand. West 7th Street was quickly saturated with automotive repair shops and car dealerships earning it the nickname “Motor Row”.
Showrooms were also popping up all over, including one at 219 W. 7th Street. This building, now owned and occupied by J&L Staffing and Recruiting, was an established car showroom for many years before moving through various other business industries. When the facade improvement project came along, it became something else; the destination for the second of four murals to be installed for the program.
Not only does the 219 W. 7th building have a direct relationship to the industry that gave the area its nickname, it also has approximately 4,000 sq ft of exterior brick wall on one side. Thanks to recent renovations, the exposed brick was in beautiful shape to perform as a canvas. It’s visible from Downtown as well as Wesley Parkway which connects to Interstate 29, making it a perfect place to put the perfect mural.
In addition to the building, the business itself is a working representation of its community. For years, J&L has continued to support and strengthen this community and those who live in it. As a business that promotes the fair employment and treatment of all of its employees with equity and equality, J&L embodies the West 7th values of honesty, integrity, and hard work. These factors, and more, made the building and the business a great candidate for the art installation project.
The proposal that was chosen for the J&L Staffing building was a concept by Royyal Dog (Chris Chanyang Shim, 심찬양), an internationally distinguished graffiti artist. With his photorealistic style and depictions of hope and harmony among cultures, Royyal Dog’s inspirational messages fit in perfectly with the ambitions of those who first developed the West 7th Corridor as well the optimism of those who currently live and work there.
This mural was started the first week of October 2021 and drew in hundreds of interested and watchful passersby. On October 10, the mural was complete. As was outlined in his proposal, the artwork was a gorgeous representation of West 7th Street.
The mural depicts three girls in traditional Korean hanbok dresses and celebrates the African American, Southeast Asian, and Jewish cultures represented by the girls. It was these groups of migrants that built the communities and businesses that have made their home in the West 7th Street Corridor. Incorporated within the design are blossoms of the compass flower, Sioux City’s official bloom.
Originally, the façade was to be painted white for Royyal Dog to use as a background color however, upon seeing the building in person, knew a bigger impact would be made against a backdrop of black. He used a lift with a wide platform he could walk across horizontally to reach the 3-story tall brick canvas and typical ladders for those areas that were easier to reach. Royyal’s talent was apparent from day one when he used gray spray paint to sketch the entire outline, freehandedly, with no projection or grid. As the faces became more realistic and the eyes looked down over the travelers approaching West 7th Street. People would slowly drive by or stop to take in the beauty, process, and reinvigoration of the building.
“It’s amazing to me how this huge, empty, and visually insignificant wall that no one has likely spent a moment looking at for decades, has now been transformed into an artful message of diversity,” says Wolff of the installation. “It also shows an appreciation for the people who historically made their businesses along West 7th St and the surrounding area. This formerly empty wall will now be a place for photographs, awareness, and conversation. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.”
There were some who slowed their cars and shouted their admiration for the art, others who created a sort of tailgate to watch the process, and still others who gathered to take pictures and discuss the beauty and significance of this mural. Local artists also made their way to offer congratulations and appreciation that this mural is part of Siouxland.
This mural was the second to be completed as part of the Façade Improvement portion of the project. The first mural installed was done by artist, Sarah C. Rutherford, across the street from J&L Staffing and Recruiting on the side of the American Home Health Care building at 214 W. 7th St. The beautifully designed Harrier Hawk flying over fields of produce and prairies was finished in September 2021.
Local artists will be completing the next mural which is expected to be started in the Spring of 2022.
With a rich history based on the hope and determination of the immigrant population and the continued pride carried through the current diverse community, the West 7th Corridor Improvement Project is creating a beautiful and sustainable restoration of a beloved portion of the past, present, and future.