Local artists to bring a classic Tower Records mural back to life

Photo courtesy of The Center for Sacramento History
This 1970s mural presided over the entrance to the K Street Tower Records for decades, and will be restored beginning this month.

Work begins this month on what will be a painstaking restoration of a piece of Sacramento cultural history, the 1973 mural at the site of the former Tower Records store on the 700 block of K Street. The artwork will welcome patrons to Solomon’s Delicatessen, a modern take on the urban Jewish deli named after Tower Records founder Russ Solomon, who passed away in March at age 92.

Covering the walls and ceiling of the space’s portico, the mural is a lush, psychedelic wonderland featuring plants, animals and gonzo sailing ships, painted in a style so perfectly recognizable as emblematic of an era that it’s impossible to pass by it without humming a few bars of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.” Two local graphic designers named Mitchell Aronson and Frank Carson spent a summer painting the mural, then went on to do other promotional materials, like posters and calendars, for Tower, which went out of business in 2006. Today the mural is peeling and fragile—and ripe for restoration. Work is set to begin in mid-May and wrap up in mid-June. 

Local music historian and co-founder of the Sacramento Rock & Radio Museum, Dennis Newhall says the plan to restore the mural began three years ago, when the late Ali Youssefi of CFY Development (the co-developer of the 700 Block project who died of cancer in March at the age of 35) visited him at the museum. “I showed Ali this massive collection of all of the Tower calendars and posters and a lot of other things Frank Carson did over the years,” Newhall says, “all from Russ' storage room.”

A rendering of Solomon's Delicatessen, where the restored mural will welcome visitors this summer. Courtesy of Kaufmann Architects.

Newhall began helping to research the mural’s history, and in the process tracked down Aronson. “It's quite a story to tell,” says Newhall. “I had a couple of great conversations with him, because it turned out we were the same age, and while he was laying on his back on a scaffold painting the mural I was [a radio DJ] playing LPs at the top of the Elks Building on KZAP.”

When Newhall called back a few weeks later, however, Aronson’s daughter, Seattle-based artist Sophie Aronson, answered the phone, letting Newhall know that her father had died. Now, the project to restore the mural would have to stand as a tribute to Solomon, Aronson and Youseffi, making the fulfillment of the dream to restore it all the more poignant and meaningful, not just for those involved, but for the entire city.

“A lot of people have a lot of emotional attachment to it,” says Bay Miry, one of the developers of the 700 Block project and also one of the key developers behind the revitalization of the R Street corridor. “It's just very Sacramento. Before we started construction, we had the entire mural documented, every angle and aspect of it, to use as a guide as the artists go through their restoration efforts.”

Developer Bay Miry with the late Tower Records founder Russ Solomon and co-developer Ali Youssefi (second from right in the group photo) in 2016. Photo courtesy of Bay Miry.

Miry participated in a selection committee led by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission (SMAC) which chose three members of M5Arts, the group responsible for the wildly popular Art Street and the Art Hotel, to work on the restoration: Seumas R. Coutts, Franceska Gamez and Shaun Burner. And another artist was added to the team: Sophie Aronson will be coming to town to help restore her father’s work.

The Golden Group, which is behind the Solomon’s Delicatessen project, is a who’s who of contemporary Sacramento dining scene, including Hot Italian co-founder Andrea Lepore as well as Sonny Mayugba and the team behind The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar. Initially conceived by the founders of the wildly popular annual Sacramento Jewish Food Faire—Jami Goldstene, Lydia Inghram and Sheila Wolfe—Solomon’s will have an additional outlet in Davis that opens later this month. The fact that the K Street restaurant will feature an iconic work of art symbolic of the pop culture era that Solomon represented for so many Sacramentans is just icing on the bagel.

“I think people are going to be blown away when they see it,” says Newhall, who compares the mural to the late Alhambra Theatre, another architectural touchstone that was razed in 1973, coincidentally the year before the Tower Records outlet on K Street opened. “Here's a good example of an Alhambra that's getting saved. It's not as big, but that little building with the mural—to make it into a Jewish deli in honor of Russ—it's just a great concept.”

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