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How Did These Get Here?! Solving The Mystery of Two South Philly Murals

March 13, 2023

Words and photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale

Philly’s tiny, mid-block streets captivate me. Their allure has slowly grown into something of a personal motto over the years: “always take the side streets.” As I’ve bounced around Philly, this phrase has bounced around in my head—but I can trace its origin to a single moment of discovery. This is the story of that moment, how it recently came full circle, and why it’s renewed my resolve to take the roads less traveled.

In 2017, when I had a job in Old City, I would often take different routes home from work just to see new territory. I found myself drawn to the small streets in between Philly’s blocks—because for any given side street, the chances were always better that I had never been down it.

One day, I rode down Beulah, a small street between 7th and 8th. It’s an odd one, because between Reed and Tasker, it does two little deviations. The first one is so exaggerated you can see it on maps. But at the second one, I stopped dead in my tracks. There in front of me was the cutest Philly mural I had ever seen: a bunch of birds sitting in a blooming tree against a pale blue sky.

I just loved it. The existence of such a wonderful little mural in the middle of such a random little street delighted me. This tree of birds just felt special—especially because I knew that its location meant very few people had ever seen it.

“Under-appreciated street discoveries” would be a great way to summarize the type of thing I’m always looking to post on my personal Instagram account—so naturally, I posted a photo of the birds in the tree. I also, of course, looked for an Instagram account to credit, which I thought would be easy, since the mural included an attribution: Luxe Painting.

But there was no Instagram account with that name. There also wasn’t a website. In fact, I couldn’t find the name “Luxe Painting” associated with anything in Philadelphia anywhere online. I think I even tried following the Emanuel Plumbing and John’s Custom Stairs leads but didn’t turn up any information about the mural.

So it became a little mystery for me. Who was Luxe Painting?

I got more involved in the street art scene in subsequent years. I joined Streets Dept as a contributor. I interviewed dozens of artists and attended even more events. I learned a lot. But I never heard the name Luxe Painting again. Even more surprisingly, I never found another piece by them. Was the tree full of birds a one-hit wonder?

It was not—but it took me five years to discover another work by its creator.

While planning our late 2022 Streets Dept Excursion schedule, Conrad and I decided I would lead November’s tour of murals in Point Breeze. I identified several worth including, and then went out in search of others nearby that would fit into the route I had in mind. I particularly wanted to fill a gap between the last two stops. So what did I do?

I took the side streets. And it paid off more than I could have dreamed.

Just south of Washington Avenue, on Alter Street, between 19th and 20th, I discovered this strange, skeuomorphic… piece. (At the time, I wasn’t even sure if it qualified as a “mural.”)

It’s five Philly rowhouses, complete with windows, doors, and cornices! But the wall it’s painted on has evidently changed since it went up. Real windows and doors have been cut into what once must have been a solid wall. At first glance, your brain kind of struggles to make sense of it. It kind of feels like a glitch in the Matrix.

I immediately knew I had something special on my hands. For one thing, it was intriguing: why would someone paint five fake rowhouses here? But another detail piqued my interest: the doors, windows, and cornices were painted on parachute cloth. This was done professionally.

I took a few photos, then looked for a plaque. There wasn’t one, but I knew I had to include this mural as a stop on my tour. So I did the only thing I could think of—I walked around to the front of the building, on Washington, and started asking employees if they knew anything about the rowhouses painted on the back of their building.

I started by talking to a few guys sitting inside a warehouse, who told me to talk to the business next door, YD Hardwood Floors. They seemed to think the owner would know something. So I went inside the flooring showroom and asked the two women working there if they were familiar with the mural. They were not, but they said the owner was upstairs and could come down to talk with me shortly.

So I waited. And I waited a little longer. I finally asked if the owner was still coming down, and one of them left to go get her. Normally I wouldn’t be so persistent, but I needed to get answers for the sake of my tour!

Unfortunately, the owner had no information for me. She knew about the rowhouses, but said they had been there for about 10 years, and predated her time in the building.

So I went back to the mural to check one last time for any other details or clues. And there, in the bottom right, in black on dark red, was the attribution I had missed at first glance:

Luxe Painting! I couldn’t believe it. I was simultaneously thrilled, because I had discovered another amazing side street mural by an old familiar name, and disheartened, because I already knew that name was a dead end.

But I had a tour to lead. I could now at least identify the installation as The 5 House Mural, but I needed to come up with something else to say about it. So I returned home with renewed drive to finally find more information about Luxe Painting.

It’s at this point that I must admit… I guess I didn’t search very hard back in 2017. To be fair, I wasn’t nearly as passionate about public art as I am now, but there are a number of pages that seem like they would have been pretty easy to find, even back then. There’s a Hidden City Philadelphia article that mentions Luxe Painting, there are a couple of business review sites that mention it, and there’s even a Wikipedia page that mentions it! (In writing this story, I even found Luxe Painting’s old website archived on The Wayback Machine.)

One name was attached to all of these mentions: Kim Alsbrooks. Kim appeared to be based in Philly and had worked with Mural Arts Philadelphia, which would square with the usage of parachute cloth in The 5 House Mural. But with no active website and a private Instagram account, getting in touch for confirmation seemed like it would be difficult.

Long story short, after chatting with another Philly muralist who was following Kim on Instagram, I was able to get a phone number. Which I texted. And which replied, suggesting I call.

That’s how, five years after finding some birds in a tree painted in South Philly, I came to be on the phone with Philly-area artist Kim Alsbrooks, the original owner of Luxe Painting.

Kim told me that she actually lived on Beulah Street, just one block south, when she painted Buelah’s Tree. Joe, a friend of hers, had gotten into buying and selling houses, and asked her to beautify the street by painting the mural in hopes that it would help him sell a house there. (She also made the mosaic that lines the bottom of the mural.)

The 5 House Mural followed shortly thereafter, when Joe’s friend Anthony was selling a group of homes on Alter Street. To make the street feel more residential, he hired Kim to paint five rowhouses on the warehouse wall directly across the street from his five-rowhouse project. So it’s these five houses that are responsible for the existence of the mural!

Kim told me about two other murals she painted around the same time. One was at the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Thompson Street, in Fishtown. You can see it in historical Google Street View imagery. The other was just a block away, on Orianna Street, for the Sabina Rose Memorial Garden, which was named in honor of a young woman who was assaulted and murdered at that location in 2010. This garden has since been filled in with new construction–it’s kind of hard to believe this could happen to a memorial garden. Once again, however, you can still see the mural in historical Street View imagery.

When she operated under the name Luxe Painting, Kim was primarily working as a restoration artist. In that arena, her most significant contribution is undoubtedly the restoration of the Keith Haring mural at 22nd and Ellsworth Streets, which Mural Arts hired her to lead in 2013. She was a perfect fit for that project because in the early ‘90s, she attended a workshop modeled after Haring’s youth workshops, and has used his same techniques in her own workshops with kids. (Little did she know, the Haring mural was also a stop on my tour!)

Kim also told me that Streets Dept founder Conrad Benner interviewed her in 2010—yes, that’s before Streets Dept even existed—about “My White Trash Family,” a series she had on display at Bambi Gallery at the time. I couldn’t find a video of that interview, but here’s a different video of Kim talking about the show.

Kim continued painting the White Trash series until 2019, and it’s garnered a lot of press over the years. It’s still mentioned to this day—The New York Times Style Magazine mentioned it in a January, 2023 article about Philly’s new Scandinavian cocktail bar Andra Hem, which has several portraits from the series on display.

Kim doesn’t paint very often these days. “About five years ago, I figured I didn’t want to do manual labor much longer,” she told me over text. So she’s been putting most of her time into her antique business on Etsy, and teaching English to foreign students at a ballet school

But “out of the blue someone will call me, like the Germantown Quaker Meeting House restoration last year,” she said. “I still do work for customers I’ve had for a while.”

I’m so happy that I tracked down Kim Alsbrooks and solved the mystery of Luxe Painting. Sometimes you find the most amazing things off the beaten path. Kim’s work has only reinforced that for me.

So remember: always take the side streets.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Nicole Hutnick permalink
    March 14, 2023 8:57 am

    So cool! Can’t wait to go see this!

  2. March 14, 2023 9:05 pm


  3. Ellen Danish permalink
    March 15, 2023 9:12 am

    I love this fascinating article. The author is a great detective. The art is gorgeous. It’s a real Philly story.

  4. March 15, 2023 12:10 pm

    The Billy Penn newsletter led me here and I’m so glad it did. Totally charmed by this day-brightening article. Thank you!

  5. Sara Palmer permalink
    March 15, 2023 3:02 pm

    Hearing that the Sabina Rose Garden got gobbled up by construction hits me hard. I also mourn the New Fire/Nuevo Fuego mural ( at approximately Germantown and Girard and the All the Way Live from the 215 mural at 2nd and Berks (

    Surprisingly, Pokémon Go stops associated with these vanished murals still exist, so players have a chance to revisit them virtually at least.

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