By John Toole
---- — PELHAM — Santander Bank’s $200 million rebranding campaign didn’t anticipate the priceless mural in the lobby of the Pelham branch on Bridge Street.
But the decision of bank executives to preserve Lowell artist Janet Lambert-Moore’s painting that incorporates Pelham landmarks was like solid gold to the people of town.
“Oh, they definitely made the right decision,” said customer Jackie Murphy, a retired Memorial School teacher, as her eyes scanned the mural yesterday. “It represents the town and its history.”
The mural depicts First Congregational Church, Harris’ Pelham Inn, the old Sherburne School that is now Town Hall, and the old library that is now home to the historical society.
There is the trolley barn, old stone bridges and Atwood’s Store.
Some of the landmarks still stand, some are gone to history.
The mural covers the entire first floor lobby wall behind the tellers.
“The town of Pelham, the population in general, will be pleased with their keeping that mural,” said Rep. Charlene Takesian, R-Pelham. “That’s our town.”
When the former Sovereign Bank became Santander Bank this fall, people wondered what would become of the mural.
Santander’s regional president, Mike Bruno, said branding is important to companies.
The bank wanted its 159 branches in the Northeast, including 20 in New Hampshire, to resemble one another in the way they look and feel to customers, he said.
But while Santander is a global financial company, Bruno said he is proud it also understands the importance of serving people locally.
“This mural was obviously very important to the community,” he said. “We made the decision very quickly this was the right thing to do for this community to have that mural in the branch.”
He describes the mural as massive.
“It’s pretty great,” Bruno said. “You can see how the community connects to it.”
The bank explored removing the mural and donating it to the town, but, upon inspection, concluded such a move could damage the mural.
“That would have put the mural at risk,” Bruno said.
So, while the rebranding went on in Pelham, the mural stayed put, becoming a bit of a local landmark itself.
Lambert-Moore, whose work has adorned an ornament on the White House Christmas tree, completed the Pelham mural in 1989.
“It’s nice they want to keep it,” Lambert-Moore said. “I’ve been told a lot of people who stand in line forget to walk up because they are looking at the painting.”
It was commissioned by the late Louis Fineman, founder and president of the old Pelham Bank and Trust, who had her do murals for other branches.
She said it is about 50 feet long.
“I had to work at night and I had a key to the bank,” Lambert-Moore said.
Lambert-Moore recalled Fineman as a “down-to-Earth guy.”
Fineman still enjoys a George Bailey-type reputation in Pelham today, where he is remembered as the banker sure to help the people of town.
Selectman William McDevitt said Fineman was a good judge of character, who would loan money to residents in need, telling them to come back later for the paperwork.
McDevitt recalled his own encounter with Fineman following a family emergency for which thousands of dollars were needed.
“He got me a check then and there,” McDevitt said.
Santander executives have retained not only the mural, but a portrait of Fineman that hangs in the bank. It’s in the branch manager’s office, right where Fineman worked, looking out on the lobby.
“I think that was a good thing to do and reminds people of their desire to stay as close to the community as Louis Fineman was,” McDevitt said.
Bruno said people are welcome to view the mural during banking hours or at upcoming seminars for small businesses and homebuyers.
For some customers, the mural delivers a hometown moment every time they enter the bank.
“The mural means a lot to the people of Pelham,” Takesian said.
“I’m really happy to see the bank keep the mural there and I’m grateful to them,” McDevitt said.