When Rob Banaszak moved to DC from Pittsburgh and Wade Wilson relocated here from Grants, NM, both in 1994, neither could have predicted the course their lives would take. Rob had a background in public relations, while Wade, like so many others, hoped to work in the political arena. Both were also attracted by the large, forward-looking gay community in Washington. When they met a year later and became a couple, their paths had already begun to evolve. After a two-year time out in Albuquerque, the two returned to Washington in 2006 and purchased their row-house at 1112 Q St., NW, a few blocks east of Logan Circle.
Already becoming a trendy locale, the historic area bordering 14th Street had remained in decay for decades following the 1968 riots. But by 2006, Banazsak and Wilson’s block was occupied by tenants in the process of restoring the late 19th-century structures, which were painted in tasteful pastel shades. Except for 1112. “The exterior was a revolting pea green,” Banaszak recalled. “We immediately made plans to repaint and picked out a vibrant coral.” Little did the two suspect that their new domicile was about to become a neighborhood landmark.
The owners were initially delighted at the front of the house, facing Q, burst into bloom. But when the painters returned the next day and began to work on the side, overlooking the adjacent alley, they were shocked to see a Pepto Bismol pink. “Stop the brush!” shrieked Wilson. Not to worry—these two have never been at a loss for ideas. Instead of returning the paint and insisting on a re-do, Banaszak and Wilson decided to use the new color as the interior of a watermelon, framed with a green rind initially planned as the trim and punctuated with black seeds.
When the house painters balked, insisting that they did not know how to paint a mural, Wilson seized a brush and gave a 60-second demonstration. Responding to a request for a “model,” he rushed to the Whole Foods on P, purchased a fresh watermelon, cut it open, and placed it on a stool in the alley. Voila! The house painters had more talent than they realized—by the end of the day, the decorative wall had emerged.
From the start, the house with its unusual wall has been a focal point for the neighborhood. Children are delighted with the imaginative treatment of a familiar summer treat, and the Post ran a piece on it in 2008. The ubiquitous Prince of Petworth (Dan Silverman) did a blog piece on the mural the same year, and the house was listed on RoadsideAmerica.com: Your Online Guide to Offbeat Tourist Attractions in May 2015. Banaszak and Wilson report that numerous tours have included the mural, which brightens the block and brings smiles to neighbors and visitors alike.
Over the years the neighborhood has grown up around the landmark mural. After the respective owners declined an offer to sell their row houses to make way for development, an in-process high rise is looming above the 1100 block of Q. Owners Banaszak and Wilson are taking the change in stride. Meanwhile, the two have found their respective niches in DC—both far from their initial plan. After a stint with IT, Wilson now works with Baan Thai on décor. Banaszak, who had left the Catholic Church because of its positions on gay life, is now the Pastor of the Institute for Spiritual Development, a non-denominational church located in Palisades.
Aside from its subject, Watermelon House is otherwise unusual in being “vernacular art”—i.e, created by untrained individuals who do not identify themselves as artists. Its popularity speaks to the diverse nature of murals in our city and their multiple roles in creating community.