If you have driven down Cypress Street in Tampa between Howard and Rome, you’ve undoubtedly seen a new mural being installed on the south side of the street. Designed by Carlos Pons, one of Tampa’s premier mural artists, it’s a traffic stopper. But what was it before? What was the journey that led to this point?
Wood Window Makeover moved into its current space in July of 2012 after having begun in a two car garage in Seminole Heights. When I started, I could park my truck in the garage and still work. Word got around and our business grew to the point that we had to move - out the city stopped taking our trash.
So where did we go? I was on my way back, in the Wood Window Makeover Van, from a job in St. Petersburg, having found a couple of doors in the trash, I stopped by Schiller's Architectural Salvage on Cypress, because I just couldn't stand to see perfectly good antique doors go to waste. Through conversation the owner of Schiller's pointed across the street to the vacant building and said "You should talk to that guy who owns that building - his name is Ben." I'd have to hunt him down. Turns out it wasn't that hard.
As I drove away and turned off of Cypress onto Rome Ave., my phone rang. I answered and a guy said he just saw me pass by in the van and wanted to ask me about the windows. Turned around and stopped to talk to him. It was Ben. I kid you not. We struck a deal and he gave me three months rent free and no deposit in exchange for some window work. I was so scared because up until that point the business had worked rent free out of my Seminole Heights garage. But I pulled the trigger and walked into a place I'd never been.
Some people stay at the gate their entire lives, others open the gate and explore the wilderness to see what they can find. I'm an explorer. Doesn't mean I knew what what I was going to do. I just believed I that somehow, when something difficult came my way, I could get through it.
The new shop was a dream come true. A scary dream, but as has happened in the past, as I walked through the dark, I eventually found a light switch and started to see the possibilities. The phone rang. It was a contractor out of Jacksonville that needed a whole building full of windows done. And he would deliver. The phone rang again - it was the Manatee River Hotel in Bradenton with over 400 windows. The answer? Yes I can (But I didn't know how I would do either, yet.)
The building was an ugly, Pepto Bismol pink, but we made it our own and we made it work. And the job in Bradenton? That gave us enough money to get the building painted by a well known and talented artist I'd worked with in the past - Jason Hulfish
That was in 2013. The business has been through so many things since that time. We started putting on big workshops and events that attracted people from all over the country that raised money for charities to give back to the community. We began getting calls, not just from Tampa and our neighboring St. Petersburg, but from all over the country. We started doing projects and hosting workshops as far west as San Antonio, Texas, as far north as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and everywhere in between. People we have taught have started businesses of their own all over the nation.
But everything hasn't always been roses and rainbows. 2017 was one of our darkest years. Office staff was found embezzling, sabotaging our insurance policies and poisoning some of our field workers. It was an epic downward spiral that tested my resolve, but one that also provided an opportunity for me to discover what I was made of. I had jobs booked out all over the nation that I had to push through, practically alone. No office staff. Sometimes a month would go by and I'd be out of town, unable to even think about answering the phone. My family suffered. I suffered. I was gone a lot.
I'd made it a point to continue doing workshops when I was in town. I set aside the first Friday of the month to invite the community in so I could teach them about the windows. I wouldn't charge anything. It's just something I needed to do. It was through the workshops that I met Lynda.
Lynda had come to learn how to work on her windows because the company she'd hired messed them all up and she needed to put them back to right. When she told me her story, it was the right thing to do to hold the next First Friday workshop at her house, to help her get things like they should have been. It wasn't long after that that Lynda came to work with me. Watch the video about that here.
Lynda walked into a mess but agreed to help me sort everything out and get everything back on the right track. One of the things that happened when we were experiencing the growth that we did, expanding our network across the country, is that we kinda forgot about where we came from, our home right here in Tampa. We decided to shrink things back and focus exclusively on our home court. As we focused, the idea for the museum emerged and completely changed the way we look at what we do and how we do it. We have grown and changed in so many good ways, that we felt it was time to paint our building once again.
Carlos Pons is AMAZING. Through conversation he was able to extract the spirit of what I was trying to tell him and express it artistically in a way that blew me away. He's working on it right now and although he's not done yet (he's almost there), I couldn't wait to show you. It's unbelievable.
There is so much to see in the mural, so many messages, so much meaning. I feel blessed and honored not only to be able to commission such a work of art, but to display it in a way that everyone can enjoy with us. We are working through ways to light it up right now, as well as install permanent seating so anyone who wants to take it all in, can. It's the perfect way to introduce the public to our museum and invite them to enjoy and experience this disappearing aspect of our culture -the Archetypal Wood Window. Come by to see it. Stay a while. I am sure you will be as inspired by it as we are.
There's much more to say about the mural, but I'll save it for another time.