After purchasing the building in 2017, Meyer Orbach along with the reputable Orbach Affordable Housing Solutions group immediately began mapping out plans for West Philly’s University Square Complex. The $140 million project included $25 million in renovations and upgrades; however, Orbach and his group were compelled to make an even bigger impact in the West Philly community, beyond just their real estate.
Nearly two years after purchasing the building, Orbach enlisted renowned South African artist, Faith 47, to help facilitate and encourage community in the neighborhood by way of a 19 story-tall mural on the side of University Square Complex. Unveiled in late 2019, the mural, titled “Silent Watcher” was created to “bring a sense of hope and movement toward the future, as well as a calm, enduring strength in the current moment,” according to Philadelphia organization, Mural Arts.
Inside the property, OAHS updated all 442 units in the building with upgrades to appliances; they have additionally ensured that every unit was designed to appeal to the functionality and comfort of all tenants. The building was modernized with energy efficient bathrooms, energy-saving climate systems as well as luxury vinyl floors that replaced carpet flooring from decades ago and now serves solely as senior housing to elderly residents.
“We are committed to ensuring high-quality housing for all income levels and we pledge to continue preserving the affordability of these units for generations to come”, said OAHS Chairman, Meyer Orbach.
But, as much effort as Orbach and OAHS poured into the interior and renovations ofthe building, they were sure that the exterior reflected that same interest and the care and consideration that went into the renovations. This interest came in the form of character and community. “Silent Watcher” spans across 11,000 square feet of the University Square Complex and depicts a woman, whose race is ambiguous, with her eyes looking downward as she watches over the neighborhood. In a community where the demographic is varied with families from all different ethnic backgrounds, the Silent Watcher quickly became a testament to the people of her neighborhood.
Below the mural, the South African artist intentionally added two excerpts of text to accompany the art. The first excerpt was a quote from Philadelphia born philosopher and historian, Noam Chomsky that said, “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future.” And below the Chomsky quote, Faith XLVII added a bit from the city’s seal, “Philadelphia Maneto,” which translates to “Let Brotherly Love Endure.”
In a time of such great uncertainty with racial distress emanating in thousands of communities across the United States, the Silent Watcher stands as a beacon of hope, with optimism for a better future and strength to endure the present times.
“For us, it was essential that mural be developed in a way that makes it not only an asset to the building owner, but also to the people who live in the area and for whom the mural will be a prominent neighbor,” Orbach says. “The mural project had to be both responsive and reflective of the communities involved in the process and be a piece of art that creates a positive visual impact in the area. This wall could be a
landmark and a beacon. Something people come from all over to see.”
The vast mural can be viewed in person in West Philadelphia at 3901 Market Street.