Decorators are working in a handsome 19th-century building on Broadway in Providence, Rhode Island. They’re readying the interior for a new restaurant opening. Proprietors Chris Spertini and Greg Costantino look on as the workmen begin the laborious job of stripping away three layers of wallpaper. But Spertini spots something entirely unexpected and shouts at the decorators to stop right away.
The Broadway restaurant, now open and called Maria’s Cucina, is housed in an elegant three-story building from 1897 that once housed the Italo-American Club. It’s thought to have been one of the oldest such clubs in America. But the interior was in desperate need of some tender loving care. And it was in the high-ceilinged foyer where those decorators were hard at work when Spertini called a halt.
And the reason Spertini stopped the decorators was that their work had revealed a hand-painted mural probably dating back a century or more. The walls were covered in masterfully hand-painted images of ancient Greek and Roman ruins. Realizing what they’d uncovered, Costantino told the decorators to throw away their metal scrapers and get some rubber ones. These murals needed careful treatment.
In a March 2019 TV interview with WPRI’s Eyewitness News, Spertini explained, “It was just absolutely amazing. And we said boy, now we don’t have to paint. Now, all we have to do is find someone who can restore them.” Although most of the murals were intact, there were patches which had worn away with the passage of time.
Fortunately Spertini and Costantino knew just the man for the job: their old friend Gregory LaSalle, an accomplished artist. Talking about the artwork he was commissioned to restore, LaSalle said, “It was interesting to take the paper off and see what was underneath. I think someone was very proud to leave this here.” And he added that his aim was to complete his work without anyone knowing that he’d ever touched it.