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Pershing Center mural

Art enthusiasts and historians are debating the value of Pershing Center's mural, composed of 763,000 1-inch-square ceramic tiles.

Saving the Pershing Center mural would be a costly undertaking.

It would take an estimated $1.2 million to remove the mural on the outside wall of the auditorium, store it, restore and re-install it, based on an estimate by PC Sports.

The city decided to see what it might cost to save the mosaic artwork after many Lincoln residents said they would like the city to save and reuse all or part of the mural that covers most of the outside west wall.

The mural, made up of 763,000 1-inch-square tiles, depicts many of the events that took place in the municipal auditorium — boxing, basketball, dancing, ice skating.

Designed by two artists, Leonard Thiessen and Bill J. Hammon, it was the largest work of its kind in the United States when it was installed in the mid-1950s.

Pershing will no longer be used for shows this fall, replaced by the new Pinnacle Bank Arena in the West Haymarket.

City leaders have said they likely will demolish the auditorium and offer the land for private development.

The cost was a natural question after hearing many people express a desire to save the mural, said Miki Esposito, director of the city’s Public Works and Utilities Department.

Now the city has some idea of the cost if city leaders decide to go forward with the demolition and there is enough public sentiment to save the mural, said Esposito.

But it is a “back of the napkin” estimate, she said.

The estimate includes about $450,000 to remove the wall and cut the mural from the wall.

Storage is estimated at $12,000 a year.

Mural restoration and reinstaLlation would be an estimated $550,000. There is also a $200,000 contingency built into the estimate.

The two-and-a-half-page letter from PC Sports, the company that managed the West Haymarket construction and is now overseeing several city projects, describes how the mural is attached to the wall and some of the problems inherent in removing it.

In order to preserve the mural, the wall would have to be demolished from the inside and pulled into the building in pieces to prevent debris from falling outward and damaging the mural.

The mural would likely have to be removed in sections. And it would require that crews had simultaneous access to both the exterior and interior sides of the wall, either by lifts or scaffolding, according to the analysis by PC Sports.

The mural appears to be in "average shape at best,” according to the analysis.

There are patches of tile missing from various areas and the condition of the substructure is unknown and could only be determined by a test removal of part of the wall, according to the analysis.

It is also unknown how the mural would fare during the tear-down operations. The tile and plaster may have become brittle, and sawing the mural into sections might cause chipping and cracking damage that would need to be repaired, according to the analysis.

The mural would likely require about 1,600 square feet of storage in order to store the braced and padded panels upright, according to the analysis.

The figures are preliminary and could change greatly based on a variety of factors, particularly the interior condition of the mural, the PC Sports staff said in the letter.

The reinstallation estimate reflects only the anticipated labor cost and does not account for any construction of a structure to hold or support the mural, according to the analysis.

The city has not yet made any final decisions about tearing down Pershing or saving the mural, said Esposito.

The city's proposed budget includes demolishing Pershing in the second year of the two-year budget cycle. But there is no source for the estimated $2 million demolition cost. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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