overview

A bas-relief mural created in 1971 for Victor’s Café, a popular Cuban restaurant on the Upper West Side, was the work of local Cuban-born artist Arturo Martin Garcia.

It depicts a shirtless young sugar cane worker modeled after Garcia’s lover.

Header Photo

Credit: Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2019.

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History

In 1971, a unique bas-relief mural was commissioned by Victor Del Corral, the owner of Victor’s Cafe, for the West 71st Street side of his corner restaurant on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side. Victor’s was then the city’s top Cuban restaurant. Del Corral opened it in 1963 and built Victor’s into a popular spot that attracted an eclectic mix of celebrities, Lincoln Center attendees, gay people, and members of the neighborhood’s large Cuban émigré population.

Intended to evoke the spirit of Cuba and Del Corral’s humble origins growing up on a Cuban farm, the mural, sculpted in plaster mixed with marble dust, depicts a pastoral scene on a Cuban sugar cane farm. A shirtless, well-built young man is toiling amidst a field of cane, and a team of oxen are hauling a cane-filled cart. It was the work of local Cuban-born artist Arturo Martin Garcia. He had graduated in 1949 from the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro, Cuba’s oldest and most prestigious fine arts school, in Havana, where he won first prize in sculpture. According to Del Corral’s granddaughter, Monica Zaldivar, the model for the man in the mural was the artist’s lover.

Victor’s Café closed in this location in 1980 and moved to Midtown. In 2012, the mural was threatened with removal by a new owner. This required approval by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, since it was in a historic district. A campaign to save the mural was spearheaded by Upper West Side resident Michael Gotkin, Landmark West!, and the Cuban Cultural Center of New York. The mural was ultimately celebrated and restored. The current Oxbow Tavern took its name from the mural.

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