BEVERLY – The old McDonald's on the Beverly waterfront is about to make its final takeout order.
With the long-closed restaurant finally facing demolition, city officials say they are ready to remove a wall mural that has been in the building for nearly 50 years and eventually move it to the Beverly Public Library.
Officials have said all along they planned to preserve the mural, a painting of the Beverly-Salem waterfront by Gloucester-based artist Emile Gruppe and his son, Robert. But exactly how, when and where has been a matter of conjecture.
Officials now say they have devised a plan to safely remove the mural, which is literally part of one of the building's interior walls, have it restored and moved to the third floor of the library where it can be seen by the public.
"The question was, 'How do you move a mural that's painted on a wall?,'" said Mike Collins, the city's commissioner of public services and engineering. "That was the challenge."
The mural is 23 feet long and was painted by Gruppe and his son, Robert, sometime in the 1970s when the restaurant was expanded to include a dining section out back, according to Collins. The painting depicts an aerial view of the Beverly and Salem waterfronts connected by the old Beverly-Salem bridge.
The McDonald's closed in 1994, and the building and land were purchased by the city. The building has been used as a homeless shelter, storage for recycling bins and a harbormaster's office over the years, but has remained mostly empty as several attempts by the city to entice a restaurant developer failed.
But after all these years, plans for a new restaurant look like they're about to become a reality. In April, the city signed a 40-year lease with restaurant developer Marty Bloom to build a restaurant. The plan still needs state and city approvals, but Bloom is hoping to start construction this fall and open next summer. Collins said the city is planning to remove the painting sometime in September.
Informed of the city's plans to save the painting, Robert Gruppe, who is now 75, said with a laugh, "Scrape the mustard and ketchup off and it'll be all set."
"It wasn't a monumental project," he added. "They didn't want a real fancy job so we just did it and got out of there in a few days. They just wanted some decoration. They flew up in a helicopter and took photos of the bridge and islands and gave us the photos and said, 'Paint this.' We did it in acrylic, which we don't usually paint with. They didn't want it on canvas. That's why we painted directly on blueboard."
Robert Gruppe said the mural was painted at the time McDonald's was putting an expansion on the restaurant, which Collins said was done in 1973. Gruppe said he and his father even asked a 7-foot worker who was laying tile to paint the sky.
Robert Gruppe, whose father died in 1978, runs the Gruppe Gallery in Gloucester. He said has no idea what the McDonald's mural is worth.
"I don't consider it a masterpiece," he said, "but it's a part of Americana."
Collins credited Mike Bouchard, a department of public services foreman, as the "mad scientist" who came up with the plan to move the painting without damaging it. The big obstacle was the fact that the wall painting was attached to another wall made of cinder blocks, which city workers had to remove one by one.
Bouchard then devised gate hinges to build a "titling framework" that the mural will be leaned on in order to ease it down to be packaged and readied for transport, Collins said. Windows will be removed on the side of the building to get the painting outside and loaded on a truck.
Kevin Harutunian, the city's chief of staff, said the city is looking to hire a company to restore the painting before it is moved to the library, where it will be placed along a wall on the third floor of the main library branch at 32 Essex St. The timing for those steps has not been determined, he said.
Emilie Gruppe Alexander, the daughter of Emile Gruppe who runs the Emile A. Gruppe Gallery in Jericho, Vermont, said she was not aware of the arduous steps the city is taking to preserve her father and brother's work.
"That is quite a feat," she said. "I had no idea. I think it's great that they value it enough to preserve that image. I commend everybody who's doing it."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.