Historic Preservation Commission rules against downtown mural


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A downtown Wilmington bar owner, told to remove a mural from his building or face fines, had his case heard by the Wilmington Historic Preservation Commission Thursday night.

Joe Apkarian owns The Pour House, a basement bar at the corner of Market and Front Streets. The bar has been closed since March due to COVID-19 restrictions, so Apkarian has been out of state working for FEMA.

“The Pour House is a unique place,” said Apkarian’s mother Kitty Cole. “You know, it’s a Marine bar, and it’s a place that marines gravitate to when they come to town, they know it’s a safe place.”

A Marine veteran himself, Apkarian was notified in June that a mural painted on the staircase walls entering his bar was in violation of the historic district code.

“The bar’s been closed since March, he gets this notice that he’s fined and he’s going to be fined on a regular basis until something is done about it, when he has no income coming in and the mural has already been up for a year,” Cole said.

The city considers the mural to be a sign, although the business name is nowhere to be found.

“I mean, without being snooty, we have a Waffle House sign on Front Street,” Cole said. So this is offensive, but that’s not offensive?”

The Historic Preservation Commission has no say over the classification of the artwork as a mural or sign. Chair Rob Romero says a display like this must adhere to the original vision of the architecture.

“This appears to be more of a work of art versus a sign,” Romero said. “It’s beautiful in what it is, but it also has to be historically accurate to that building.

This is what the commission calls congruity. Aside from that, the mural spans three walls and is more than 50 square feet, which is against code. However Apkarian claims the outside stair entrance to the bar was installed in 2004 and therefore two of those walls are not part of the original building.

Without getting into the specifics of who owns each wall, the commission ultimately ruled that the artwork in not appropriate for the space, citing historic district code.

Cole says she and her son will likely appeal.

“I think that that’s a discussion that needs to happen,” she said. “I think it would be good for all of the downtown business owners to clarify some of these questions that were asked tonight.”

If Apkarian moves forward with an appeal, it will be with the Board of Adjustment. Unlike the Historic Preservation Commission, that board can reevaluate whether it should be considered a sign or a mural.

Click here to view the documents from the Historic Preservation Commission regarding the mural.

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