Gainesville's 34th Street Wall: a long colorful history

34th Street Wall: a long colorful history.

Most walls keep people apart, but the 34th street wall has brought Gainesville together since 1979.

352 Walls photographer, Iryna Kanishcheva, said it's not just like a graffiti wall. “It accumulates messages from students, graffiti writers, some express their feelings some practice for mural,” she said.

It’s a canvas- 1,120 feet along southwest 34th Street - with different sections painted to tell a story; the story of our town.

Chelsea Dinsmore grew up in Gainesville, and remembers little things about the wall when she was younger.

"It was a big deal to get my dad to drive us down 34th Street to go to school in the morning so we could see the new pictures on the wall everyday," Dinsmore said.

The wall serves as a timeline for Gainesville, every memory buried with new layers of paint.

“Whenever something big happened in Gainesville, we won a big championship or a memorial for the murders. It’s always been a background as a memory, a memory holder," Dinsmore said

Dinsmore said when she was in high school, the rules of the wall were a little different.

"They weren’t as generous about it back then; they used to keep people from painting on it so it was still kinda of a rebellious thing to do,” she said.

The wall was created by the Florida Department of Transportation when 34th Street was widened from two lanes to four.

But now it serves as something different: a community bulletin board.

As time goes on, the wall changes, some changes happen over night. Luckily, with just a snapshot, capturing these moments is easy.

Local photographer Kanischeva helps keep the history of this landmark alive.

"I always see new paintings on the wall, I have to stop by and take a picture to save it for memories because tomorrow it will already be tagged or painted over, " Kanishcheva said.

And just like Kanishcheva, Dinsmore also has a part in preserving the wall.

Dinsmore is a chair for UF Digital Collections. An album in this collection called “Messages on the Wall,” serves as an archive.

"It shows the change over the time, of the different things that were important at the time,” Dinsmore said.

Dinsmore said messages that were once erased are captured online for generations to see.

“They’re a nice memory for alumni to go back and look at and say 'I was here for that championship, I remember that year'.” she said.

But none of this would have been possible without the talent of local artists.

Guido Montenegro is an artist that has lived in Gainesville for 7 years. “I think everyone is an artist to a certain extent,” Montenegro said. This wall has given him an outlet to express himself freely.

"As an artist sometimes you have a fear of what the public may feel about the final product. But this is kinda an open format people can just come and spray whatever and have a free care about it," he said. "The 34th street wall served me personally as a starting point to be more involved in more permanent murals around town.”

Montenegro, along with other artists from all parts of Florida, have done several pieces together for special holidays and events.

"A lot of the public actually stopped their cars to appreciate it. They brought their kids to take pictures with them," he said.

It’s not unusual to see visitors stop to admire the work. Kenna Rock stopped by on a road trip from North Carolina.

"I wanted to pass through Gainesville, I was trying to research any places I could see anything from Tom Petty's past to honor him," Rock said.

In an interview in 2006 for Tom Petty's reunion concert in, he talked about how nice it was to see someone paint a welcome home sign for him on the wall. That welcome home sign is now a tribute to the Gainesville native. Rock said she wanted to see it for herself and leave her mark.

"I don’t know much about Gainesville but I’m glad I got to come through here and see this. I think every town would definitely benefit from something like this," Rock said.

Right next to that, another famous tribute honors the victims of the Danny Rollings murders in 1990.

Dinsmore said thanks to a father of a victim, this has been the longest standing tribute on the wall. "He would come back and paint it everyday and every time someone painted over it he would come back and refresh it…the effort that went into maintaining it has just garnered the respect of the other painters on the wall,” she said.

The wall is thick with stories. Like chapters in a book.

“It’s really something unique for our town, not many people know how many artists painted something there," Kanishcheva said

"It’s a long history of people who have come and gone you know some of those artists might not even exist anymore,” Montenegro said

A long, colorful history, not only chronicling the present, but bringing excitement to what tomorrow’s message might be.

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