Visual Arts

Tom Eblen: Breeders' Cup Festival to wrap CentrePit with pictures of Lexington scenes and characters

In July, one of the tower cranes set up for the CentrePointe development lifted mechanical equipment to the roof of the future 21C Museum Hotel at West Main and North Upper streets.
In July, one of the tower cranes set up for the CentrePointe development lifted mechanical equipment to the roof of the future 21C Museum Hotel at West Main and North Upper streets. Herald-Leader

How can Lexington hide CentrePit from Breeders' Cup visitors later this month?

Well, it can't. The colossal hole is 40 feet deep, a city block square and has two tower cranes poking out of it.

But the creative team at Cornett advertising is working furiously to make sure visitors see something more interesting than a stalled development.

Clay Gibson and Tim Jones have been gathering photos from the Lexington Herald-Leader, the University of Kentucky and other archives. About 150 of those images will be assembled into a fabric mural that will wrap the CentrePointe fence.

In addition to hiding the weed-rimmed pit, the mural will offer a visual diary of Lexington's history, culture and characters, along with Randy Steward's giant hand-lettered words: "Lexington, Kentucky, Horse Capital of the World."

Lynn Imaging's Monster Color will print the 7-foot-tall mural in 25-foot sections, for a total of 1,335 feet around the block's perimeter along Main, Upper, Vine and Limestone streets.

The Webb Companies, which has been trying to build the mixed-use CentrePointe project since 2008 and recently turned it over to another developer, gave permission for the project.

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"We want to reflect on who we were, who we are now and maybe who we want to be," said Kip Cornett, president of Cornett and organizer of the Breeders' Cup Festival. "For out-of-town visitors, it will show there's a little spice to this town."

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Sure, there will be the typical landscape, horse racing and basketball photos. But the mural also will have pictures of people such as Keeneland odds-maker Mike Battaglia, the great jockey Eddie Arcaro and the Triple Crown winner Secretariat.

There are photos of University of Kentucky basketball greats, including a joint portrait of coaches Adolph Rupp and Paul "Bear" Bryant during that golden era when both the basketball and football teams were national powers.

Semi-historical moments include the first Camry rolling off Toyota's Georgetown assembly line and the recently restored Skuller's clock on Main Street after it was blown down by a storm in the 1970s.

There is a picture of Anita Madden, Lexington's former queen of over-the-top parties. And one of the real queen: Elizabeth II of Great Britain, on the first of her many trips to Central Kentucky.

There are photos of other famous visitors, too: Presidents Kennedy, Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon; actors Judy Garland, Gregory Peck, Pat Boone and Elizabeth Taylor; writer Hunter S. Thompson speaking at UK; and Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing his muscles for students at Bryan Station High School.

There are photos of long-gone buildings that once defined Lexington's skyline: Union Station, the Ben Ali Theatre, Stoll Field and the old Lexington Roller Mills factory that stood where Triangle Park is now.

Historic moment photos include the 2003 ice storm, the castle on fire, Vietnam war protesters marching down Main Street and Prohibition-era policemen pouring bourbon down the drain — an unthinkable act in modern Lexington.

Team Cornett has been searching for just the right images of famous and colorful characters such as first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, jockey Isaac Murphy, artist Henry Faulkner, sports announcer Cawood Ledford, actor Jim Varney, madam Belle Brezing and Carlos "Little Enis" Toadvine, the "world's greatest left-handed upside down guitar player."

More recent figures in the photographs include longtime philharmonic conductor George Zack, sportscaster Tom Hammond, former Gov. Martha Layne Collins, blues guitarist T.D. Young and Crank & Boom ice cream entrepreneur Toa Green.

There are modern scenes from restaurants, the farmer's market, craft breweries, Cup of Common Wealth coffee shop and the urban agriculture non-profit Foodchain. And don't be surprised to see a Parkette po-boy or Charlie's fish sandwich.

"For locals, it's a good reminder, a good history lesson," said Gibson, the young designer assembling the mural. "Especially for people of my generation who don't know all these nuggets."

The Breeders' Cup Festival is paying for the mural from its sign budget, Cornett said. He didn't know the exact cost, but said Monster Color is printing it at a discount. His goal is to have it up by Oct. 18.

The mural will be sturdy enough to stay up long after the Breeders' Cup ends Oct. 31. That's good, since there is no telling how long CentrePit will continue to be a blot on Lexington's landscape.