By Jeff Mays
HARLEM—The inspirational murals painted on the security gates of the stores along 125th street by "Franco the Great" could end up as decorations in Harlem River Park.
W. Franc Perry, chair of Community Board 10, said a plan would preserve the 25 remaining murals that Harlem artist Franco Gaskin painted on the corrugated steel security barriers by relocating them to the planned 20-acre park.
Gaskin, 83, came to Community Board 10 looking for help to preserve the gates because he fears a 2008 zoning law will soon mean the removal of all the gates.
Under the rezoning, any new security gates will have to be the more modern see-through type where 75 percent of the covered area is visible.
Law enforcement officials now believe the old corrugated gates make stores less safe from break-in by allowing burglars to roam undetected inside.
"I'm not against the changes but no one wants to see their work in the garbage," Gaskin said.
One gate, with a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was already tossed during construction a few years ago, Gaskin said.
Community leaders say they can't let a symbol of the neighborhood's legacy go in the trash.
"We feel as a community that he's a treasure," said Jennifer Prince, co-chair of Community Board 10's Art and Culture Committee. "The gates . . . are part of Harlem's legacy."
The board voted unanimously Wednesday to support Gaskin's efforts to preserve the gates which have inspirational messages or depictions of African American leaders such as Malcolm X.
The Harlem Community Development Corporation is working with the city to complete the park, which is being built in phases between the Harlem River and the Harlem River Drive from 125th to 145th street.
It says is too early to comment on what might happen to them.
Gaskin began painting the gates in the 1970s, because he thought the gates made Harlem look like a "prison camp." He began seeking permission from store owners to paint their security gates.
Most Sundays, Gaskin spends the morning on 125th Street across from the Apollo with international tourists who come to view the murals before stores open.
Gaskin has made a business out of the murals and sells wares related to the artwork. Gaskin has also traveled the world and produced murals in several other countries based on the popularity of his Harlem murals.
"The store's business begins when the gates go up. Mine begins when the gates go down," Gaskin said. "But this has never been about a lot of money. It's about the art and the beauty."