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Richmond Tale: Local building tells story on its wall

on February 13, 2010

Take a stroll down McDonald Avenue, and you might come face-to-face with a local legend.

His name is Leroy. He wears a luscious purple shirt open at the collar, better to show the pendant hanging from his neck. His smile is slight, conveying a sense of benevolent knowledge. The knowledge comes from above, because Leroy is a towering figure. His book, probably a leather-bound Bible, hangs cradled in his left hand, its heavy pages draped open.

Butterflies seem to dance from its pages.

This is how you’ll find Leroy, no matter the time, as his huge figure and sweet visage are the product of a collage of rich colors painted on the wall at McDonald Avenue and Ninth Street, just west of downtown.

But he’s not just a painting, not just the grandest character on a huge public mural on the wall painted last year by youths from an Oakland nonprofit group. Leroy is real.

“Hang around long enough, and you’ll see him,” said Steven Carlisle, who owns the building adorned with the images. “Leroy is around here all the time.”

Another character in the public mural.

Carlisle said he agreed to his building being painted because it was a good activity for the kids and could tell a native story about a city rich in characters. Some, like Leroy, are based on real people.

Others, like the little girl with white, dangling braids reminiscent of a young Venus Williams, are like most fictional characters: Not a specific person, but a composite of reality.

The kite-sized butterflies? Well, Carlisle confesses to not being sure exactly what those mean.

“It’s just a beautiful work of art for our city,” he said. “I look at it every day.”

Carlisle, a longtime resident who waxed poetic about the days when native son and former Major League player Willie McGee was the talk of the town, said he’s hoping to sell his building soon.

“But I hope the painting lasts longer than I do,” he said.


  1. Jean Womack on February 21, 2010 at 8:48 am

    The significance of the butterflies are that the Native American children who live in this area do the butterfly dance. It is a symbol for long life.

  2. Robert Rogers on February 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm


    Thanks so much for that detail. I wish I had picked up on that before.

    Thanks again,

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