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Over the years, countless messages painted on Gainesville's 34th Street wall have chronicled the lives of Gainesville’s students, full time residents, and the ebb and tide of local, regional, and national events. These messages are now being captured in an online album Messages on the Wall. With your help, the memories of the wall can be shared across generations.
Gainesville’s most public diary stretches across 1,120 feet of concrete along Southwest 34th Street. A typical highway retaining wall, the 34th Street Wall arches up to 24 feet. It was built by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in 1979 when 34th Street was widened from two to four lanes.
As workers smoothed the concrete, FDOT unwittingly created a landmark. Since its construction, the Wall has been one of Gainesville’s most recognizable public sites, painted with dozens of messages and images. “We were just trying to hold the golf course back,” says Gina Busscher, FDOT’s Public Information Officer. No one is absolutely sure when the graffiti tradition began but FDOT employees and local residents recall a similar graffiti wall in the same spot prior to the 34 th Street expansion.
At first, residents and City of Gainesville officials discussed whether to allow the graffiti to continue, since it is technically illegal. At one point, the City tried to paint the Wall white after each episode, but it was re-painted so quickly that it was impossible to keep up. On the night of September 3, 1990, part of the Wall became a permanent memorial. Adam Tritt and his friends painted a message honoring the victims of the most brutal murders in Gainesville’s history. In red, black, and white paint, Tritt inscribed in simple letters the names of the five murder victims, along with an image of a heart and the words “We Remember.” Sadie Darnell, then public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department and now Alachua County Sheriff, touched up the paint daily, keeping gallons of paint in her garage. Sixteen years later, this one memorial message remains a constant on the Wall.
The myriad of ways in which students and residents of Gainesville have utilized the 34th Street Wall are as endless as the paint is thick. Messages have commemorated death, hailed new life, healed emotional wounds, proposed marriage, celebrated national championships, and raised awareness of social issues. The Wall continues to chronicle the ever-changing public discourse of the citizens of Gainesville.
The Concrete Blog: Messages on the Wall is a Gainesville community project, organized and developed by the citizens of Gainesville, the Alachua County Historic Trust: Matheson Museum, and the Digital Library Center, University of Florida Libraries. This project is funded in part by the Florida Humanities Council.