It’s just a little side street named Dean Avenue after Dr. Oliver Dean – one of the first cotton manufacturers in the Manchester area. Dr. Dean provided for the Manchester city library with the Dean fund. This little side street leads from Elm Street to the library, so the name Dean Avenue made perfect sense. Historians note that the narrow avenue was also once known as Dean or Methodist Court when St. Paul’s M.E. church was there. But as times changed, and for a unique reason, Dean Avenue was dubbed Cat Alley.
According to the Catington Post, a plaque on the alley wall explains it all. The late C.T. Durgin is credited with giving the name to the little thoroughfare because he saw two cats in “a fierce battle” there one time. Local realtor Greg Barrett, owner of Kas-Bar Realty, had the plaque installed on the wall and started the campaign to renew it. He raised money working with local businesses, teamed with a local artist who worked with at-risk street and graffiti artists; giving them the space and funds necessary to create unique and positive artwork featuring felines. Now the street has become an open-air gallery for street art kitties. The urban plen aire art gallery was begun with appropriate permission and now fills the street with colorful images and distinguishes it for much more than its small size.
Apparently, the very narrow street was bare for a long time. The buildings lining the walkway are faced with red bricks. These are now mostly covered will colorful painted artwork giving homage to kitty cats and everything about them. What was once just a way to get from here to there has become a spirited space visited by cat lovers, street artists, and tourists who come to see the cute images.
Locals are very familiar with the cat-centric creative space. It is the side street leading to the library and easy to find. But Atlas Obscura describes it as located across the street from XO Restaurant. The Cat Alley entrance is just to the right of Lala’s Hungarian Pastries located at 836 Elm Street. With the popularity of Cat Alley increasing, other business owners have started to propose embellishments for the area. Liz Hitchcock, who owns Bookery Manchester, discussed a new proposal with the city aldermen. Her project idea included redesigning two crosswalks which connect to the hidden little Cat Alley street. The designs would be created by David Hady using a repetitive pattern implemented between the white lines of the existing crosswalks situated on Elm Street at Manchester Street and also Hampshire Lane. Hitchcock volunteered to pay for all the art supplies required for the project. Aldermen approved the project after learning that City Engineer Todd Connors would work together with Hitchcock to design a pattern which would comply with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
In October 2019, Manchester Ink Link reported that Hitchcock’s proposal to create a brand new crosswalk with whimsical cat themes had been implemented. The new “Catwalk” has cute cartoon-like cat faces which seem to smile up at walkers using the crosswalk. The design is an interlocking pattern of fun feline faces. Hitchcock and Hady, artist in residence with Orbit Group, teamed together with Manchester’s Department of Public Works. The crosswalk concept draws inspiration from the tessellations of M.C. Escher, the Dutch artist whose work uses mathematically precise puzzles which interlock and manipulate visual perspective. Rather than use the original colors proposed in orange, green, and purple, the new crosswalk was painted in long-lasting polymer gray for the base and white for the kitty faces. Marlana Trombley, Prosper Peak Founder and Growth Strategist helped artist Hady to paint the new crosswalk design.
It would seem that the Cat Alley avenue has begun to develop its own allure for homeowners. It’s possible to purchase a residence which has the quaint and whimsical personality the little street has made famous. One realtor is offering a delightful Cat Alley Condominium. The exterior and interior photos indicate that this dwelling might be the perfect new home for owners with artistic design sensibilities and an appreciation for kitty art.
With the success of Cat Alley assured, more has come to light concerning how it all came about. According to realtor Greg Barrett, the idea resulted from a collaboration among a local group including developer Dick Anangost, the Palace Theatre, Intown Manchester, and Barrett himself. The group sponsored a contest soliciting artists who would paint cute cats on the alley walls to pay homage to its cute nickname.
The artists created and submitted their work for display on October 30, 2009, when the Palace Theatre opened the show CATS. It took a while for the first artwork, that of Peter Noonan was first painted. Barrett continued to fundraise for the project and ultimately resorted to putting up a sign in Cat Alley asking for artists. Anthony Williams took on the project because his specialty is public murals. Williams resourced local young graffiti artists who volunteered their time to paint. Anita Huddlestun, Alex Mathieru, Emily Drouin, Caroline Chavette, Brianna Gould, Kaitlin Gould, Aimee Cozza, Del Christensen, Cindy O’Rourke, Noona, Brian Lapree, Bill Earnshaw, and Peg Lipin all got involved to beautify Cat Alley.
Williams continues to work with the young artists of Eagle Eyes and other organizations to create artwork which will beauty the city. He doesn’t work with social or political commentary, though he respects the artists who do. His goal for outdoor exhibits is to work with young artists interested in painting “a blue sky and a cloud”. Williams understands how important public art is to both the youngsters who create it and the people who enjoy it. He works to divert illegal taggers, those he calls “under the bridge” artists, toward community friendly artwork which develops pride within the artists who create it. He educates his young artists about the legalities of defacing public property, and particularly how dangerous it is to deface properties funding by the federal government. He trains the young artists to understand that they could face federal charges if they are caught defacing federally funded public property. Channeling their creativity in positive ways is William’s primary goal.
With all the time and effort spent to develop Cat Alley and its surrounding areas, it’s not surprising that it has become a must-see spot for anyone interested in wall murals, public art spaces, cat themed art and creative use of visual welcomes to the tiny street. It’s become a pleasant part of Manchester, New Hampshire and the people living there invite everyone to experience this little community gem.