Oct. 15, 2020 1:20 pm

Opinion: Demolition of Gloria Casarez mural would be a massive loss for Philly

"Taking it down symbolizes the destruction of hope, destroying visibility of Latinxs, women, Lesbians, and cancer warriors," says guest columnist Erme Maula.

(Photo from Keep Gloria on 12th Street Facebook page)

This guest column was written by Erme Maula, a resident of South Philadelphia and a lifelong voice for justice in the city.
The Gloria Casarez mural at 204 S. 12th Street is scheduled for imminent demolition by Midwood Development and Investment.

Midwood plans to knock down the former 12th Street Gym and build a 31-story building in its place. Anyone who knew Gloria and her impact on Philadelphia knows that the loss of the mural is a massive loss for our city.

The mural was erected just a few years ago to honor Casarez, a local Latina activist who died of breast cancer in 2014. Gloria dedicated her life to civil and economic rights. She brought communities together to find common ground and common vision. As a student, she organized other students to push for affordable housing and an end to homelessness. As the City’s first director of LGBT affairs, Gloria led Philadelphia to adopt the broadest protections for LGBT people in the nation.

I am one of the many people impacted by Gloria’s work in this City. I am a queer Filipina child of immigrants who met in this city. As an advanced practice community health nurse, I’ve dedicated my career to helping people and communities work together to move forward. I am a South Philly reading captain and someone who deeply loves Philadelphia and believes in the issues that Gloria Casarez fought for in this city.

I have some ideas of how Midwood could better serve the neighborhood and that would align with Gloria’s dedication to the communities depicted in the mural.

Midwood could provide affordable housing in their building for the average Philadelphia income. They could contribute to the land trust set up for the housing encampment. They could create an endowment at Bread and Roses Community Fund in Gloria’s name so that further grants can be provided for community groups making change (she was their board chair for many years).

Midwood could provide scholarships to the transitional-aged youth living at the Gloria Casarez Residence of Project Home so that they can get work or educational programs. They could provide for LGBTQ organizations who are at risk of being priced out of their workspaces. They could support Safehouse, a supervised injection site that can reduce harm in our communities. They could support the Morris Home, a residential facility for transgender individuals.

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This is just a beginning of how they can honor Philadelphia, and honor the legacy of all that Casarez stood for.

Midwood says that they care about art and community. I question that as they have not found a way to save the mural and did not personally reach out to Gloria’s wife to let her know their plans for destroying the mural.

Saving this mural is about more than just a mural.

Taking it down symbolizes the destruction of hope, destroying visibility of Latinxs, women, Lesbians, and cancer warriors.

Allowing Midwood to not only destroy this mural, but also to build a 31-story building in a neighborhood that does not want it, is atrocious. I am not against Philadelphia moving forward, but we should move at the advancement of all Philadelphians at the expense of none.

Save the mural and develop something that serves the community, Midwood.


There will be a live vigil at the mural on October 19, the day of Casarez’s passing, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. That will be followed by a Zoom Town Hall at 7 p.m. The vigil and town hall are open to the public, you can register here.


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