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This City’s ‘Windows on the Past’ Is Way Cooler Than Most Local History Murals

"Windows on the Past" in downtown Walla Walla, Washington

"Windows on the Past" in downtown Walla Walla, Washington Michael Grass / Route Fifty


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Instead of an empty brick wall, this mural takes shape on a distinctive architectural landmark.

WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Walking along Main Street in this historic city in southeastern Washington state, there’s no shortage of places offering a glass of wine—the Walla Walla Valley has the highest concentration of wineries anywhere in Washington state.

Route Fifty, however, was drawn to something else in downtown Walla Walla during a weekend road trip. Tucked away in Heritage Park just off Main Street is “Windows on the Past,” which for those who like public art installations, offers a really cool idea for any community looking to honor a full spectrum of local history and preserve an architecturally significant building.

When Walla Walla’s Odd Fellows’ Temple was torn down in 1993, the building’s sandstone façade, which features distinctive windows and curved Dutch parapets, was taken apart block by block, numbered and reinstalled in Heritage Park thanks to a community effort led by the Blue Mountain Art Alliance, now known as ArtWalla.

According to the organization:

[T]his colorful mural is composed of historic and contemporary photos from ethnic and cultural groups who lived in the Walla Walla Valley from 1850-1950. They are reproduced in porcelain enamel on steel panels and inlaid on the historic façade of Henry Osterman's 1902 Odd Fellows' Temple.

(Photo by Michael Grass / Route Fifty)

ArtWalla hosts an online tool to explore the details of the window panels, which include everything from images of a Chinook salmon; historic photos of local Native American tribal members, including the Cayuse; and a picture circa 1920 showing two local Whitman College students, William O. Douglas and Francis Penrose. (Douglas would go on to serve as the longest-serving U.S. Supreme Court justice.)

“Windows on the Past” is certainly not your average local history mural. There’s a lot to learn about Walla Walla from this project, whether you’re looking at it in Heritage Park or have never stepped foot in Walla Walla.

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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