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Wythe Bowart works on a mural on the front of the Hayward Area Historic Society's new Center for History & Culture along Foothill Boulevard in Hayward, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. Bowart along with Josh Powell are painting five murals based on vintage photos at the new center. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

HAYWARD -- Faces from yesteryear gaze down from murals on the front of the new Center for History & Culture downtown as cars whiz by on Foothill Boulevard.

"Each mural depicts a view of the Hayward-area communities we serve," said A.T. Stephens, interim executive director for the Hayward Area Historical Society, which owns the center.

The five murals now being painted are the finishing touches on the exterior of the old Joseph Magnin building, which the society is renovating for its new center. In addition to housing exhibits and the historical society's collection, it also will have archives and a research center, plus a coffee shop and an event center that can be used for wedding receptions and banquets.

"The Center for History & Culture is not simply a museum," Stephens said.

Artists Josh Powell and Wythe Bowart are painting the murals freehand, using vintage photographs selected by historical society curator Diane Curry in consultation with Stephens and the muralists.

Powell has painted several murals in the city, including one on the Russell Way side of the museum's building that resembles a vintage postcard, emblazoned with the words "Greetings From Haywards, California."

In the new murals, Powell and Bowart, whose company is called the Bristle Bros., are painting the images in monochromatic colors: blue, green and sepia. "The museum wanted the colors to be subtle," Powell said. "The original photos are black and white, and we're just giving them a little bit of color."

Four of the murals are being painted on brick, which is challenging, he said.

"We struggle with the texture of the brick and grout," Powell said. "The hope is that once you start staring at the mural, you notice the art and you forget the texture's there," he said.

The muralists expect to be finished by the end of October.

The historical society only knows a little about the photographs used for the murals.

In one, Hayward Union High School cheerleaders from 1950 coquettishly smile, a breeze billowing their skirts.

In another, students from Russell City School smile and squint, facing into the sun in the scene from 1949. "We don't know the names of the kids, but they posed in front of Principal Wilda Mette's new car," Stephens said.

A bucolic scene features Chris and Mamie Goulardt in a field of flowers at Fairview Ranch in early May 1920. Another mural is based on a July 3, 1887, photograph of the Journals, a baseball team sponsored by the Journal newspaper.

A woman in a long skirt with her hair pinned up sits atop a bicycle at Lake Chabot in a photo from 1909. "We don't know who she is," Stephens said.

"I like them," Rudy Grasseschi, whose shop, The Cobblers, sits across the street from the new center, said of the murals. "They spruce up the building, and they spruce up the neighborhood,"

Inside the building, work continues to get the center ready, with most of it scheduled to open early next year.

The first floor will house a lobby, a coffee shop, a gift shop and four exhibit areas.

The second floor will hold the research area, where people will have access to the historical society's archives and collections. It also will have an event center that can seat 150 and an adjoining roof garden. The event center will open later, probably next summer, Stephens said.

Some people have asked why the society didn't include local landmarks in the murals, Stephens said. The decision was deliberate.

"We wanted to highlight the stories of the people who lived here," he said. "The images reflect the stories that are going to be told in the Center for History & Culture."

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.