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The Central District’s missing Terry Furchgott mural

The new post office is located in Seattle’s Central District on 23rd Ave and E Union, reopening in September 2020 after a 20-month closure (Image: Sarah Goh)

By Sarah Goh, UW News Lab/Special to CHS

In 1995, Seattle artist Terry Furchgott painted a six panel mural for the United States Postal Service. Her artwork hung behind the main counter of Seattle’s Central District post office on the southeast corner of 23rd and Union.

When the branch closed to make room for a new development in January 2019, the paintings disappeared. In the new location across the street, the wall behind the main counter remains bare.

“I really miss those paintings,” Central District neighbor Amy Hagopian said. “I thought they really captured the heart and soul of the Central District. What happened to them?”

Hagopian is not the only customer wondering where these paintings went. Furchgott herself had lost track of her mural as well. According to Ramanda Johnson, who has worked at the USPS Central District branch for 23 years, customers frequently ask her where these murals have gone.

“They were meaningful,” Johnson said. “It was a talking point for a lot of people who were from the original neighborhood.”

Terry Furchgott’s mural was designed for customers waiting in long lines at the post office. The mural was Furchgott’s first major public art piece that represented the multiethnic population of the Central District.

When Furchgott first painted the murals, she asked people from the neighborhood to pose as inspiration. As a result, Johnson recalls many customers pointing out the people they recognized from their neighborhood.

“There was a lady who recognized her neighbor’s cat and that guy in the military was somebody’s nephew,” Johnson said. “And that little girl. We could never figure out what the ribbon was for on her ankles.”

For one of these featured community members, Furchgott’s mural was a meaningful portrayal.

“One of the girls who’s putting the valentine in the mailbox,” Furchgott said, “She was a girl from a troubled family who was always getting into problems at school…I got a letter from her saying my mural had been helpful to her…to see herself portrayed as this lovely person sending a valentine.”

It’s these types of moments that are incredibly rewarding for Furchgott. As a community artist and Central District resident, Furchgott has designed and coordinated many community art projects such as Art to the People Project and The First Street Artist’s Collective.

She has completed many large public art commissions for Seattle with the goal of inviting more people to experience art. Furchgott wants to introduce art to not just buyers or galleries, but to people a part of the community.

For post office customer Mindy Stern, Furchgott’s mural deeply resonated with her long history of letter writing.

“I grew up in Brooklyn, New York,” Stern said. “And I used to walk with my grandmother, who was a Holocaust survivor, once a month to the post office…she would mail a package to my aunt in Israel.”

For 12 years, Stern worked on the campus of Providence Hospital, now known as Swedish Cherry Hill. On her lunch break, she would walk over to the post office to mail a package or letter. The line never bothered Stern. She would always look at the paintings while she was waiting.

“My husband and I wrote international letters to each other for five years,” Stern said. “It led to a very deep friendship, and eventually we got together. We’ve been married for 38 years with two kids and two grandchildren.”

Recently in August, Stern’s son and his family moved to Germany. She writes to them every week.

“Each time I send them a letter,” Stern said, “I imagine the look on their faces when they see they’ve got mail…Terry captured all of that in her work…I think about her paintings all the time.”

Meanwhile, the new development that now stands at the site of the old post office and shopping center stands eight stories and will be home to a new Black arts center when it opens for residents and commercial tenants in coming months.

Ramanda Johnson stands in front of the new location of the Central District post office (Image: Sarah Goh)

So where is Terry Furchgott’s mural?

Johnson says she last heard the paintings were down in storage at the Columbia City Station. Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson says they have been set aside for the time being with no sufficient space in the new post office.

“I think there’s room here,” Johnson said. “They made it feel like it’s your neighborhood post office… I want our paintings back.”

The University of Washington News Lab gives advanced journalism students an opportunity to build a dynamic clip portfolio by reporting for any of 70 client news outlets in the greater Seattle area. CHS is proud to work with young journalists and feature their work. You can learn more here.

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mixtefeelings
mixtefeelings
1 month ago

Wow. Great article. Wonderful job reporting. I only vaguely recall those paintings (I never went to the branch very often) and this makes a subtle and powerful case for how important they are for the neighborhood’s history.

Lola
Lola
1 month ago

I wondered when the post office was going to be moved whether the paintings would still be there. I really love those paintings.

Olivia Hill
Olivia Hill
1 month ago

Yes! Those paintings sre important and were always a joy to see. Bring them back. Please.

CD Born n Raised
CD Born n Raised
1 month ago

Seattle loves erasing the CD’s black culture. Sad…

Brian N.
Brian N.
29 days ago

Sorry to break it to ya bud, Terry’s white.

Katie
Katie
1 month ago

I had no idea that was a local work of art! Bring them back!

Amy Hagopian
Amy Hagopian
1 month ago

Thank you so much for this detailed and lively report on the Furchgott mural mystery! If you want to let the post office know you care about this, phone Eddie Smith, the post office supervisor, at 206-930-2918 or (208) 284-7567.

joanna
joanna
29 days ago
Reply to  Amy Hagopian

Amy, thank you. Another resident also wrote to [email protected].

batmosphere
batmosphere
29 days ago
Reply to  Amy Hagopian

Thank you for this information! I loved those murals and would be happy to see them make a return.

d3 person
d3 person
29 days ago

I never knew these murals were by a local artist, it’s cool to learn some of the story behind them. I remember these well and spent a lot of time looking at them waiting in the old PO. Also Ramanda is such a nice person, I always enjoy chatting with her when I stop by the post office. I hope we can get the murals back up!