Photo depicting various individuals standing or sitting in front of a brightly colored mural on a brick wall that reads, "Welcome to Rainier Beach."

New Mural Brightens Pho Van Restaurant Building in Rainier Beach

by Elizabeth Turnbull

Earlier this month, volunteers and community members painted on saturated oranges, blues, and pinks to warm the abandoned Pho Van Restaurant building on Rainier Avenue South and to bring some light to the Rainier Beach area through art.

The idea for the mural was spearheaded by the Rainier Beach: A Beautiful Safe Place for Youth initiative (RB:ABSPY) which partners with the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, the Seattle Police Department, the Rainier Beach Action Coalition, and others to reduce neighborhood violence in Rainier Beach.

Instead of fighting crime with arrests, the initiative identifies certain physical spaces, such as the Pho Van Restaurant building, where crime happens and then works to change the physical environment, increase supervision, or change policies, rules, and/or other approaches.

“Our objective was to transform [the Pho Van building] space into a positive space to uplift and beautify our community,” Cathie Wilmore, the project manager of RB:ABSPY, said in a statement. “Community murals have the opportunity to tell a community’s story, create a unique experience, engage the community, and increase appreciation for the arts and artists.”

Photo depicting an individual carefully applying yellow paint to a mural alongside a building.
A community member helps paint the mural on the Pho Van Restaurant building. (Photo: Susan Fried)

The Pho Van Restaurant has been one of these spaces that the initiative has identified as needing a bit of beautification and new life. For several years the building has been abandoned, making it more readily available for crime than for community connection and safety.

Mural project managers from Art of Resistance & Resilience worked on the overall outline while young people from the community worked on painting the mural. On Saturday, Sept. 11, the initiative is hosting a walk called “Walk for Change,” where the community will celebrate the Pho Van Mural project and learn more about crime hotspots in the area.

Similar to other portions of South Seattle, Rainier Beach often receives media attention for crimes that take place inside its limits and not for its community events and movements. Despite this narrative, residents throughout Rainier Beach are community-minded and involved. The neighborhood is one of the most culturally diverse areas in Seattle — 80% of Rainier Beach residents are People of Color and over half of the area’s population speak a language besides English. 

Outside of the initiative, many community members and businesses have worked to make Rainier Beach a community-centric and warm place for their fellow residents. Just this month, roughly half-a-dozen barbers in the area provided free haircuts for fathers and sons, the Rainier Arts Center hosted its second August Porch Festival highlighting local BIPOC artists, and the Northwest Tap Connection celebrated their third annual Seattle Gullah Geechee Festival.

This latest development, or mural, is intended to make one corner of Rainier Beach a bit brighter and to show outsiders a more accurate glimpse of the area.

“Our goal for this design was to showcase the many programs, activities, services, and values narrated of how we see and experience our community,” Wilmore wrote in the statement. “In contrast to what is often portrayed during the evening news.”

Photo depicting colorful and vibrant murals on brick walls adjacent to the Pho Van Restaurant building in Rainier Beach.
Murals now adorn the brick walls that use to guard trash bins next to the Pho Van Restaurant building, making this one corner of Rainier Beach a bit brighter and showing outsiders a more accurate glimpse of the vibrant community. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo: Zion Thomas
Photo: Zion Thomas
Photo: Zion Thomas

The Rainier Beach community will host a celebration for the Pho Van Mural Project this Saturday from 11am to 1:30pm at the Pho Van Restaurant (9150 Rainier Avenue South). The event will feature food, speakers, music and more!

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

📸 Featured Image: Community members pose with the new mural at the Pho Van Restaurant building. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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