Our Favorite Historical Murals in Philadelphia

May 12, 2021

Along with the moniker of “the City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia is also known as “the City of Murals.” The mural boom started as an anti-graffiti initiative back in the ’80s and has evolved into a citywide expression of art, culture, and history. 

Over the past 40 years, the city government, local businesses, and building owners have partnered with local and international artists to cover the city in beautiful murals representing various messages. Today, we’re taking a walk down memory lane and covering murals that are historically significant to Philly in either their creation or the message they depict. 

Read on to see just a few of our favorite historical murals in Philly:

Legacy by Josh Sarantitis and Eric Okdeh

707 Chestnut Street | Center City
Photo by Jack Ramsdale via Mural Arts

This 2016 mural created in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial, and Mural Arts Philadelphia explores “Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglas’s work to end slavery.” Philly-based artists Josh Sarantitis and Eric Okdeh worked with students from five different public schools to create the piece, and the hand-laid glass tile portion makes it the largest glass-tile mosaic in Philadelphia.

Common Threads by Meg Saligman

Broad and Spring Garden Streets | Center City
Photo by Tom Crane via Mural Arts

This eye-catching mural depicts present day teens interacting with historical figurines to express the commonalities of humans, which transcend history, culture, and time. According to the Guardian, the figurines were antiques belonging to the artist’s grandmother, while the teens were students from local high schools at the time of the mural’s creation in 1998.

Peace Wall by Jane Golden and Peter Pagast

1308 S 29th St | South Philadelphia
Photo by Jack Ramsdale via New York Times

Created in the same year as work began on the Common Threads mural, the Peace Wall mural was a symbol of hope during a tumultuous time in Philly’s history. While violence in the surrounding neighborhood was making the national headlines back in 1997, community members worked with local organizers to select this design and have their hands photographed together for the piece. Since then, the mural has symbolized community, hope, and equality in Philly and worldwide.

Philadelphia Muses by Meg Saligman

13th and Locust Streets | Center City
Photo by Steve Weinik via Mural Arts

Created over 20 years ago in 1999, Mural Arts Philadelphia still cites the Philadelphia Muses mural as one of their most iconic projects. According to artist Meg Saligman, the mural “explores the diversity of today’s artistic discipline,” with special care taken to incorporate newly imagined, contemporary muses of the arts alongside classics. Today, it stands as a symbol of Philadelphia’s diverse art scene.

Water Gives Life by Eurhi Jones and David McShane

13th and Arch Streets | Center City
Photo by Steve Weinik via Mural Arts

Created in partnership with the Philadelphia Water Department and Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, this 2018 mural celebrates the connection between the two organizations and the broader relationship between Philly’s rivers and local flora. The piece also has a unique connection to the city’s long mural history as it is an homage to the mural of the same name created by the same muralist, David McShane, at the exact location back in1998. Along with paying tribute to the past, the mural also looks towards the future, highlighting the importance of sustainability and clean water infrastructure.

We hope you enjoyed learning about a few of our favorite historical murals here in Philly. If you come across these or any other Philly murals that you believe should be spotlighted, please tag us in your photos on Facebook or Instagram so we can feature your mural photos on our profiles.

In addition, feel free to leave us a comment with your suggestion of types of murals or other street art that we should feature next on the Spruce Street Commons Blog!