122/124 West King Street

122/124 West King Street was the site of the Osbunn Theatre.

The Town of Hillsborough could soon have two new public displays downtown with a proposal to add both a mural and a marquee to the area.

The project proposals will be discussed at the Hillsborough Historic District Commission special meeting, open to the public, Thursday, July 18 at 10:30 a.m. As is normal custom the meeting will likely take place in the Board Meeting Room of the Town Hall Annex located at 105 East Corbin Street.

According to the Town of Hillsborough’s press release, the mural would likely be painted on the northern side of the Volume Records and Beer building at 226 South Churton Street and would “pay tribute to jazz pianist Billy Strayhorn and would depict Strayhorn playing a piano in the foreground with a train in the background.”

Hillsborough Planner Justin Snyder believes the chosen location would serve to pay homage to the artistic nature of the community.

“Being that it’s a music store and Hillsborough’s got a good music history my guess is they want to try and marriage the two and do a nod to that part of Hillsborough’s artistic history.”

Snyder also said he believes the Hillsborough Arts Council had “more input” on what the mural would depict than the town itself did.

“I think we’re simply the ones taking it through the process for them,” he said.

As far as the subject of the mural, Strayhorn has a rich history with ties to the Town of Hillsborough. According to the Orange County Historical Museum, Strayhorn visited Hillsborough frequently as a child. His father and grandfather were employed at the Eno Mill and his grandparents lived in a house located at the corner of Hillsborough Avenue and Margaret Lane.

Strayhorn worked alongside Duke Ellington from the time he was 22 years old and also served as a civil rights activist and friend of Martin Luther King Jr., according to the Orange County Historical Museum.

If the project proposal is approved, Hillsborough resident and artist Max Dowdle would be in charge of creating the mural. According to Shannan Campbell, Economic Development Planner in the Town of Hillsborough, Dowdle has “done placemaking murals in Durham, Wilson and Roxboro.”

Campbell stressed that the goal would be to get the project done quickly, if it is approved.

“Well we would like to get it done as soon as possible, but that would probably depend on the artist and the business owner,” Campbell said. “I would like to see it go in as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, the marquee would be located at 122/124 West King Street. Although the building is currently vacant, the applicants are planning to use it as a restaurant. The restored marquee would give respect to the Osbunn Theatre that was located there.

“What they (the applicants) are wanting to do is restore it and also restore the lightbulbs underneath and kind of use that nod to the old Osbunn Theatre as part of their restaurant’s image,” Snyder said. “I know the brick is supposed to be restored so they’re going to rip off the stucco that was added in the 1960s and then reopen all the window openings that were covered and bricked in.”

Snyder believes the artistic project, if passed, would provide a positive effect on the community.

“I think it’s a nod to the artistic community which has really found a good footing in the town and we’ve embraced them and also to part of our African American history which is a very important part of this town as well, with Mr. Strayhorn,” he said. “It kind of marriages all those factors together and I think it would be something that people in the town could take pride in and be very proud of.”