We all see it - the 34th Street wall, a colorful collage of graffiti that differentiates our town from any other. We see it on our way to work, on our morning runs, on our way to get milk- we’ve seen it hold everything from marriage proposals to memorials, but what do we really know about this unique Gainesville attraction?
The 1,120 foot 34th Street wall surrounds the University of Florida golf course on SW 34th Street. The wall has served as a “community bulletin board” since 1979. It was first built to prevent erosion when 34th Street was widened from two lanes to four. In the past 35 years, it is said to have accumulated as many as 400 layers of paint. Although it is mostly maintained by members of the community and UF students, occasionally we will see professional graffiti displayed. We have seen countless messages painted onto the wall- birthday wishes, graduation and birth announcements, celebrations of athletic victories, and marriage proposals, as well as promotions, tributes, and news for community awareness. When musician and Gainesville-born Tom Petty returned to our town for a concert, the wall served as a greeting card when Gainesville painted the wall to welcome him.
Arguably, the most famous message on the wall is the permanent memorial serving as a tribute to the five victims of the Rolling murders. The memorial was painted by Adam Tritt in 1990 and lists the names of the five victims in simple white, red, and black paint. It has been painted over several times, but it has been regularly re-painted and touched up as the only memorial on the wall to be continuously maintained. When the painting celebrated its 20-year anniversary, a plaque was placed below it reading “In Memory Of”, which was followed by the names of the victims.
Although the graffiti is technically illegal, neither the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office nor the Gainesville Police Department have ever charged anyone for painting the wall, and the usual charges for criminal mischief have always been overlooked. In the past, there have been several attempts to prevent graffiti on the wall, including painting the wall white and applying graffiti-resistant coating, but eventually it became too difficult to maintain and the wall was informally turned over to the public. When the Florida Department of Transportation released road construction plans that would require removing parts of the wall, officials offered alternatives to keep the wall intact. The department has even provides waste containers to allow for proper disposal of used paint supplies.
When workers smoothed over the wet concrete 35 years ago, they unknowingly created one of Gainesville’s most talked-about features, a famous public diary that we hope will be preserved and continued for years to come.
Interested in visiting the wall? Get directions here!