Scott Swoveland Murals
created the timeless murals for Mary's,
and he created special ones the Eagle is proud to display
Infamous East Side Wall Mural. Mary's Naturally. 1997
Mary's opened in 1970 at 1022 Westheimer Road, one block from Montrose Boulevard, to serve Houston's growing Gay community. Mary's was the visible epicenter for thousands choosing to settle in and develop Montrose as a safe space for their own.
Mary's became ground zero as the AIDS epidemic claimed so many of those same lives in the 80s and 90s. More than a bar, Mary's offered refuge and served as a sanctuary for those fighting and mourning this crisis. Countless fundraisers, meetings, educational workshops, and memorial services were hosted at a time when no other establishment would allow such activity. The community considered Mary's a discernible testament to those who endured bar raids, arrests, hate crimes, city referenda, and politicians refusing to acknowledge the community. These generations were true survivors - just like Mary's.
Houston artist Scott "Scotty" Swoveland regularly painted weekly colorful scenes on Mary's windows and walls adding to her vibrant reputation and visibility. Scotty painted over 500 scenes throughout the 1990s, including two full murals. One mural became particularly iconic, installed just before Houston's inaugural nighttime Pride Parade in June 1997 - the first evening Pride Parade in the nation. The image was highly visible and completely unapologetic along a heavily trafficked street ultimately seen by millions. It redefined the neighborhood as "our turf."
Scotty drew his inspiration from a gay-themed greeting card depicting a wide-eyed Dorothy and Toto from Wizard of Oz inside a Gay leather bar. The mural appeared as if Mary's front wall had been peeled back to reveal the inside. Everything depicted is exact to the interior at that time. Scotty had one week to complete the design in order to debut it for the city's first nighttime Pride celebration.
The upbeat mural was meant to be positive, depicting real people from the community having a good time. However, Scotty also admits this was his symbolic "middle finger" to those who turned their back on the community, particularly Gay men with AIDS. "We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used To It" goes the famous Queer Nation motto from that era. The community would no longer hide or be shamed.
This scene showcases iconic Mary's personalities. Sitting by the Gay Street sign is bar co-owner Gaye Yancey with Will "Wilma" Johnson behind the bar. In front of the dartboard, nursing his Scotch, is co-owner Cliff Owens. The drag queen smoking in a blue dress is Frank "Rita Charles" Riojas. Standing behind is Jeff Heine, Scotty's friend. The three bar patrons were created by blending traits from several "Wolf Pack" members so as not to play favorites. The man in the cowboy hat holding the pool stick is in homage to the mural's original greeting card source material. "Mr. Balls," a friendly stray cat sporting comically large testicles chose Mary's as his adopted home and was honored atop his very own barstool. The blonde peeking out in back is a cameo shot of Scott Swoveland himself.
Also featured is a portrait of long-time patron Cassandra McCory. She specifically chose the dress to mimic Betty Grable. That dress was gifted to the Houston Motorcycle Club. The portrait was lovingly represented to ensure Cassandra would be easily recognizable.
Finally, the ghost is Jim "Fanny" Farmer who bought the bar in 1972 from original owner Joe Anthony. Fanny is depicted in his favorite usual seat. When Fanny became sick, Gaye and Cliff sat on either side of him to ensure he wouldn't fall allowing him to remain associated the community he helped to form. Fanny passed in 1991, and his ashes were interred in the "Outback," a garden behind the bar. Many staff felt as if Fanny never really left the Mary's he loved.
Mary's closed in 2009 and the mural was painted over to the disdain of many in the community. This replica was faithfully redrawn by original artist Scott Swoveland. It shall live here in perpetuity inside Eagle Houston as both a vehicle to educate future generations, and to serve as a testament to our community's history and spirit.