On the west wall is a giant mural, about 4 feet high and at least 12 feet long, showing what looked to be a 1940s crowd in the tavern. They are playing shuffleboard, smoking, joking around--one lady even brought her cat. The painting is breathtaking in its folk-art beauty:
Americans today have largely forgotten how important neighborhood taverns like the Brown Derby were to the social fabric of neighborhoods. In an era of walkable neighborhoods (and small houses) the tavern served as a social center a meeting place and perhaps a relief valve. Every neighborhood had such places, and the regulars represented a broad sample of the residents. This mural, painted in 1950, captures a moment in time in such a neighborhood tavern in amazing detail.
|Aren't these great caricatures?|
|Sexy librarian cat lady.|
|Seven beers, this waitress can carry!|
Who are these people? Who painted them? We asked the bartender about the mural and learned some sparse details. It was painted in 1950, and the people in the mural were actual patrons. The artist, Bill Swenson painted himself into the mural twice (he is the redhead at either end). Every once in a while, we were told, someone comes in and identifies one of the figures as a grandparent, but he did not know of any written record of who is who.
|Bill Swenson, self-portrait|
I dug around a bit and only found only a couple of things. Bill Swenson had a single cartoon in the 1942 Spokesman Review illustrating "a Spokane air depot artist's conception of how a number of employees felt the first day after the 'Victory Shift' was inaugurated at the depot to keep operations going 24 hours a day."
|Spokane Daily Chronicle, Oct. 1, 1942, page 22|
I dropped a line to a friend who has a regular column in the Spokesman Review, Doug Clark, suggesting that he might enjoy the painting. Doug wrote a piece about the mural, but he had no better luck in finding out the identities of the people in the mural--or the muralist.
And that is the end of the line for this historical inquiry. Unless someone comes forward with more information, we will never know the identities of the wonderful characters captured in this mural.