Elvis mural on saloon has neighbor all shook up

May 27, 1992|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

Elvis is watching.

His blue eyes on the wall outside Miss Bonnie's Elvis Shrine bar follow you through the East Baltimore neighborhood. The 15-by-12-foot mural of Elvis Presley's face is yet another tribute to "The King" at this curious Fleet Street saloon.

But the mural has become part of an ongoing controversy between at least one neighbor of the bar and its owner, Lavonda Hunt, known to everyone as Miss Bonnie.

She may have to appear before the city's zoning board to try to persuade its members to let her keep the mural, which was painted by Raphael Pantalone, an art teacher at Canton Middle School.

And Miss Bonnie has put the bar up for sale.

She says the bitter, four-year feud with her next-door neighbor -- and the resulting eight or 10 appearances before the liquor board -- have brought on a heart attack and three strokes.

"I like running this bar; it's my life," she says. "But I got to have peace of mind."

Miss Bonnie, 61, bought the bar at Fleet and South Port streets, a block below Patterson Park, 11 years ago and turned it into an Elvis shrine.

She filled it with Elvis photographs, plaques, mirrors, banners and sundry memorabilia.

She stocked the jukebox with two columns of Elvis songs.

"I like Elvis; I always have," she says in understatement.

She likes Elvis more than her next-door neighbor, Florence Chenowith, 48, who alerted the zoning department to the mural shortly after it appeared.

The huge visage of Elvis was painted by Mr. Pantalone about a month ago as a gift to Miss Bonnie.

No sooner had he finished than the city's zoning officials received an anonymous complaint.

Ms. Chenowith says she called, not to complain, but merely to ask the zoning department whether Miss Bonnie needed a permit for the mural.

"The damn thing ain't bothering me," she says. "I'm on the other side. But if I had to vote on it, I'd vote for it to come down. I think it's degrading to the neighborhood."

Other neighbors seem to like the mural. Joseph M. Kielian, who has lived all his 68 years in a house a half block away, says, "It's a beautiful thing."

Irene McMillion, 65, and Marie Schmitt, 71, who have lived on Fleet Street 30 and 42 years, respectively, say they like the mural, even though Elvis' eyes seem to follow you no matter where you go.

A zoning inspector eyed the mural, decided it was in violation, and issued a notice to Miss Bonnie.

David Tanner, zoning administrator, says the mural violates the code governing signs in residential areas. Mainly, he says, it's too big.

Gilbert V. Rubin, executive director of the zoning board, says members would have to be presented with some overriding reason to grant special permission so the mural could be retained.

Miss Bonnie has begun her case, circulating a petition that reads: "We, the community surrounding 2422 Fleet St., demand that the newly painted mural of 'Elvis,' on the side of Miss Bonnie's Bar, remain there. The mural beautifies our neighborhood and adds to our sense of community."

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