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Mural to offer glimpse of old days in Oldsmar

On an outside wall of the City Council's chambers, an artist will paint a scene showing the downtown area at the turn of the 20th century.

Published December 29, 2004

OLDSMAR - Shortly after the start of the 20th century, automaker Ransom Eli Olds embarked on an adventure to transform a small area at the northern tip of Tampa Bay into a thriving community.

More than 90 years later, city leaders are paying homage to that undertaking and hoping to shed some light on Oldsmar's history through art.

The City Council has approved the design for a mural, depicting the early days of downtown Oldsmar, to be painted on the back outside wall of the council's chambers. The building is attached to City Hall on State Street. The mural will face Tampa Road, which is used by more than 50,000 cars and trucks a day.

"We wanted a scene that depicted Oldsmar in the beginning," said Mayor Jerry Beverland. "We want to preserve and give back to the people the knowledge and history of Oldsmar."

The city enlisted the help of the Outdoor Arts Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that strives to build relationships between public and private entities and local artists.

"Incorporating art into everyday life on everyday objects such as buildings, fire hydrants and Dumpsters is important because it gives people a sense of civic pride," said Jay Goulde, executive director of the foundation.

Beverland lent some of his own postcards from the period as inspiration. The foundation selected local artist Carl Cowden for the job.

Cowden, who has painted murals around Tampa Bay for 30 years, specializes in re-creating historic landscapes. His work in downtown Clearwater depicts the Scranton Arcade, a mall built in the 1930s. He also painted the mural in downtown Tampa of 1920s trolley cars traveling down Franklin Street.

Recently, Cowden painted a mural of old-fashioned fire carts on the front wall of Safety Harbor's Main Street fire station.

Cowden, a Tampa native, said learning about the history of the scenes he paints inspires him to do the work.

"Seeing these murals gives people a sense of place and time," said Cowden, 48. "It gives someone a sense of history. Even if you're not from the area, you can recognize that area and get a feel of the time."

The Oldsmar painting will be 37 feet long and 11 feet high and will depict the city's downtown area at the turn of the 20th century. A sketch shows a 1901 Curved Dash Oldsmobile - manufactured by R.E. Olds' company - traveling down a cobblestone street. In the background are shops and people dressed in period clothing walking along the sidewalk. A vibrant blue sky and trees serve as the backdrop.

The mural, done with exterior house paint, can last 20 to 25 years, Goulde said.

The city will pay the foundation $5,000 for Cowden's services. Work could begin in the next few weeks, said Lynn Rives, director of parks and recreation.

The city also is working with the foundation to get a mural painted on the water-tank-turned-observation-deck in the Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve. Early designs show a scene that blends in with the natural setting of the forest, including alligators, eagles, turtles and a stream.

Nicole Johnson can be reached at or 727 771-4303.

[Last modified December 29, 2004, 00:19:14]

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