Tag Archives: downtown

The State of Public Arts

9dbad7c9-3b83-4309-8011-1ac1e52b1788P1310589Needless to say, I’m letting my nerd flag fly with every blog post for the Evergreen Mural Walk.  If you think I enjoy Evergreen, consider how much I love Public Arts.  As a San Jose Native and based Artist, how could anything be more personal or provocative to me as San Jose’s Public Arts’ Scene.  I’m going to narrow my review to the Visual Arts’ for the most part because it’s my expertise and experience.  I still don’t get out often enough to be a critic of our performing arts or festivals, which San Jose has a ton of!  Well done, us.  There is constantly something happening in San Jose and a holistic approach to the public spaces being highly considered makes those more engaging.  City Hall is somewhere I find inspiration and a lot of support.

january_lectureSince coming up with this crazy Evergreen idea a year ago, I’ve been to every City of San Jose Arts Commission and Public Art meeting open to the public.  San Jose’s art portfolio is vast with a wide variety of investments and installations.  Overall beautiful and well considered, I cannot help but to notice lots of funding going to out of state artists for their unique concepts.  There’s been two pieces that people hate in Downtown.  The Arts Commission funds programs like the Ballet, Symphony and other performing Arts.  Illuminating Downtown appears to be a success with more projects on the way, a series of light Public Arts Installations to Downtown’s Underpasses.  Brand new pieces have been installed on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen.

artboxThe Art Box program finds itself empowering charming pieces in already charming, walking Communities.  To engage this program, you must have an artistically or culturally valid concept and private sponsorship.  Its this programs’ intent to create opportunities for professional artists, though the stipend is low.  I think this is why there are some done to a lesser quality than others.  It takes a larger commitment of time from the artist than the program pays.  This program adds to San Jose’s rich culture by creating exposure for artists.  The location is chosen by the Arts Commissioner in charge and the private donor, so the pay off is in the location.  Because of these elements, the Art Boxes have not been employed in Evergreen, or other graffiti ravaged Communities, though this Public Arts approach could help the safety and walkability of Evergreen.  You’ll find Art Boxes in Willow Glen, Downtown, and the Alameda.

newsofaThere is such a lack of color in San Jose, it’s known as Tan Jose to those in the Arts Community.  People lament the boredom of San Jose’s Airport, knowing the Cultural hotspot that waits for them outside.  San Jose State University trains brilliant, competent artists, but we outsource the Artistic Identity of San Jose to others.  Those like Erin Salazar, with the Exhibition District, finds private funding and public walls to empower San Jose’s Arts Community to have a hand in its Individuality.  Sadly, the Exhibition District focuses Downtown.  Not in Evergreen.  Cherri Lakey, too, with Two Fish Designs, brings Artists Opportunities forth in her successful galleries and SOFA events.  SOFA, however, still isn’t Evergreen.    Love seeing strong women creating business opportunities and cohesion for the Arts in San Jose.  That connectivity to opportunities and empowering artists is crucial to San Jose’s Artistic Identity.

What has Public Art done for Evergreen lately?  Does Evergreen have Public Art?

91d4d203-6e45-4919-9cdf-7295ef5f6498It’s gotta be asked because it’s not widely known or appreciated.  It’s often teased for its curious shape.  This first of these is a contribute to John J. Montgomery, the pioneer aviator who lost his life flying in our Evergreen hills.  This is a recreation of a wing from his Evergreen glider.  This stands at the park on the corner of Yerba Buena Road and San Felipe Road, within a mile of where the glider crashed on the Ramonda Ranch.

montgomery 1The importance of this shape is it is the modern shape of wing.  John Montgomery flew before the Wrights Brothers and had the guidance systems in mind in advance.  The East Coast bias goes back before National Sports leagues.  Publication and their Printers were in high volume along the East Coast while the West Coast enjoyed the last standing Old West and settling.  Circulation to local outlets would’ve been easy, but getting publications of Montgomery’s early flights back East were a feet.  The Wrights Brothers have the public’s opinion on Flight’s First, however it was Montgomery and he simply did it better than others until his unfortunate landing.

mouthearHave you heard of these delights to the left and right?  Evergreen Library has beautiful pieces of Public Art, but I had to hear about it in a Public Art Meeting.  That would lead me to believe perhaps you’ve not seen Larry Kirkland’s “Discoveries” either.  The Washington DC based artist here uses the senses and scale to engage his audience in an association with nature.  Mr. Kirkland’s work can be seen in airports around the world, and here at the remodeled Evergreen Library off Aborn Road.  Though little known, it think this is a wonderful addition to San Jose’s and Evergreen’s Artistic Identity.  I think I’ll take a selfie with the giant ear.  I love the honest qualities to the rock with the smooth contours of the skin.  It’s a powerful textural contrast that leads us to opinions of our relationship with nature.

1905Enough La-Ti-Da.  We’re done.  That’s it in San Jose’s District 8.  The largest Rancho in Santa Clara County has 2 pieces of Public Art.  We’ve recognized and tried to bring relevance to the Montgomery piece in our proposed artwork.  There’s splendorous fountains and decorations in new home and retail areas, but we have an artwork portfolio of two and no non-profits receiving operational grants in Evergreen, though I’m sure we have some budding ballerinas and musicians from Evergreen in our Arts Organizations.  Andrew Bales of the SV Symphony discusses the 90% decrease in philanthropy over the last decade, which the Arts has endured.  There are funds set away from every new development that goes towards things like Public Art.  This too gets trimmed away by other needed services like homeless housing.  What’s odd to me is that Evergreen is continuously development the rolling hillside but the 1% for the Arts doesn’t come back here in proportion.  If Corporate Giving and governing agencies cannot fund the Arts, it’s going to go away unless someone gets creative.

P1310632Evergreen sees epidemic graffiti in public spaces and on historic grounds.  Graffiti is a broken window to the factory that is the Evergreen Community.  I can’t help but to think Public Art and bringing charm and romanticism to Evergreen could improve safety and tensions.

Tensions will naturally occur where you have a socio-economic contrast like ours and residents don’t feel like they have any options to improve their own situations.  I maintain this Community is colorful, not unsafe.  Those committing this vandalism are our target volunteer from our high school crowd.  Their ownership and individuality brought to the project bring it success and authenticity.  This was a wildly walkable Community when I was a little girl on my red bike.  Before that, farmers freely roamed through the shortest path through their neighbors’ orchards on horseback.  This project seeks to find that walkability and boost in tourism in Evergreen’s third piece to the Public Art Portfolio.

Downtown Developer developed in Evergreen

Aevergreen-realtort the beginning of this project, I discussed with a few people: What is Evergreen?  What’s the feeling?  Who gives you the feeling?   And what was it like to grow up in Evergreen?  I’m looking to communicate that authentic emotion with these murals.  Who better to discuss it with than people with Evergreen roots who watched it grew up.

This project has connected me with some of the most gracious people.  I think kindness is a natural byproduct of farming, ranching and growing up in Evergreen.  My interviewee was beyond kind and frankly caught me off guard with how generous he was with his time.  I was enjoying talking to him so much that I forgot I was taking notes and conducting an interview.  I admire this gentleman for a number of reasons.  If I thought my application would get responded to, I would’ve applied to work for his awesome company when I worked in construction.  His company is one built on family roots and a vision of the future.  It is hard to find creativity within construction, however Barry Swenson manages to innovate in both building techniques and aesthetic of his creations.

1363191_500Evergreen Native, Barry Swenson, came from a long line of builders.  Barry has passed the family business on to son, Case.

CAM09638Mr. Swenson’s grandfather, Carl N. Swenson, was born in Sweden in 1885.  He came to the United States when he was seventeen with ten dollars in his pocket.  Carl Swenson would come to Chicago to his aunt’s house, where his aunt threatened to take his ten dollars in exchange for her hospitality.  Carl would start working on railroads and then start building his way West from 1902-1911.  He would also marry wife, Anna Mathilda Olson, also a Swedish immigrant.  From a Turlock base, Swenson would take on projects all over the Central Valley and even the Bay Area.  Carl would build the Medico-Dental Building across the street from City Hall in 1928.  It must have been quite an introduction to the Valley of Heart’s Delight because in 1929, the Swensons would move to San Jose.

ee871915451c34c8f52ea7c07be8e3d5Here, Carl N. Swenson Construction would start building modern marvels of technology and begin having a huge hand in shaping the Silicon Valley.  Luckily, he worked with an amazing architect, William H. Weeks.  The Art Deco architectural wonder Hotel DeAnza, built by Carl Swenson in 1931, is one of the most popular San Jose landmarks this way.   The Hotel Palomar, built in 1929, would withstand the 1989 earthquake with reinforced \concrete.  The Swenson craftsmanship and quality would create a reputation strong enough to pass on to the next generation.

10688125_10153388158008316_4870909524103337438_oCarl Swenson would move his family on to a 26 acre farm in Evergreen, purchased from the Hassler Family, in 1943.  Barry Swenson went to Andrew Hill High School before Silver Creek was built.  Carl N. Swenson purchased his ranch off Silver Creek Road for a mere $6,000.00.  In 2005, Barry put an estimated valuation of $16,000,000.00 on the real estate.  What a great investment!  Barry Swenson says if his grandfather’s property had remained in the family, he would still live in Evergreen today. 

ExteriorCarl’s son, Clifford, born in 1916, was a waterboy on the DeAnza Hotel project.  Cliff would’ve been the same age his father was when he came to America and began working on railroads.  Clifford would grow up on a ranch and surrounded by his father’s business.  He studied Engineering and Economics at San Jose University.  Clifford W. Swenson would rise through the ranks at Carl N. Construction Company. 

nasa-wind-tunnel-design-1948It’s been said that Clifford had the vision to create things from scratch and the ability to follow carry them out.  Cliff’s imagination would continue to propel Carl N. Swenson Construction forward through challenging projects.  He was no doubt an asset on projects like that at Moffett Field in 1948.  The Swensons would build NASA’s wind tunnel that we’ve all seen on school field trips.  Cliff would become president of the Carl N Construction Company in 1956.  In 1958, they would be contracted to build San Jose’s City Hill, now a part of the Civic Center complex on Hedding Street.

swenson familyCliff would write in a company brochure far as back as 1962: “Construction and development is a people-oriented business requiring a diversity of talent. Our company’s greatest asset is its people. The continued growth and success we have enjoyed over the years has been as a director result of teamwork: our professionals working with each other and directly with clients.”  The quality of people hired by Carl N. Swenson speaks for itself.  Beyond utilizing family members in their fields of study and strength, Cliff would hire some of today’s most successful developers.  He mentored Chuck Toeniskoetter and Dan Breeding.  In fact, Mr. Breeding would find his wife filing at Swenson’s.  Philip Mirenda would serve as VP and General Superintendent of Carl N. Swenson Construction for over 35 years.  Clifford Swenson even hired professional baseball vet Hap Smith.  He would also learn how to make way for the next generation.  Clifford could see talent in people, whether or not they had the experience.  Cliff Swenson would retire from the family business in 1983.

Mercury News archives -- An aerial photo of the San Jose Mercury News facility on Ridder Park Drive taken shortly after the plant opened in 1965. Note the lack of development around the building.

Carl N. Swenson Construction Company buildings are some of the most recognizable in the Silicon Valley because they have personality and dynamism.  To list all their projects would take a long time.  Dominican Hospital, San Jose Mercury New Headquarters, Milpitas Ford Plant, IBM, and Lockheed Martin Facilities are just a few.  The Santa Cruz Sentinel described projects like Dominican Hospital and San Lorenzo Park Plaza as “the realization of the dreams of men to build a better world” in 1967.

generations1970It is this sincerest hope of a better world that I feel coming from Mr. Barry Swenson.  This legacy of innovation and building is nothing more than a family tradition to the Swensons.  In 1961, the Green Valley Landscaping Company would become an offshoot of the Carl N. Swenson Construction Company, headed by newly graduated Clifford Barron “Barry” Swenson.  In 1977, Barry Swenson Builders would be established and pick up the family business.  Two years later, BSB would be the dominant entity in the Swenson Group. 

SecondatSantaClara2007Barry Swenson Builders had a professional homecoming in renovating the Hotel DeAnza for 2000% the cost of his grandfather’s original construction in 1931.  Historical landmarks renovated by Barry Swenson Builders are all over Downtown San Jose.  BSB is able to make old architecture feel like a new building from the inside.  Beyond Victorian homes and office building, New Century, Hayes Mansion and Santa Cruz’s Del Mar Theater are just a couple. 

CAP-uksUsAAb0rGBarry left Carl N. Swenson Construction and pursued his own direction because he found that practices were not innovating and keeping up with the building trends.  The Swenson quality and dependability were a given.  A young Barry Swenson was able to envision a new way of doing things and bring their family tradition into the future.  San Pedro Market is a Barry Swenson creation which looks so similar to the Carl N. Swenson façade.  Centurra, Vendrome and the Lofts on Alameda are just some of his new residential projects with a hint of old flavor.  That Swenson personality carries over even into this day.  Today, BSB focuses on a sustainable, innovative downtown experience.  If you’ve never seen their signs, you have.  You just weren’t paying attention.  

landmaker%20potential%20massThe Landmaker project is just one way in which Barry Swenson Builders is building “a better world”.  This creative design approach to concrete construction is a patented system designed to be safer, stronger, taller, greener and more cost-effective to other mid to high rise constructions. 

sjcc-techAgain, if we’re going to discuss BSB long list of accomplishments and creations, we’re going to be here a while.  FedEx Facilities in Santa Clara, Oakland and San Jose, GE-Hitachi Plant, Good Samaritan Medical Plaza, the San Jose City College Technology Center, City Heights, Levare Apartments at Santana Row, Century Towers, Milpitas Towers, Oakland’s Jack London Square and the DMV on Senter Road are just a couple. 

case-swenson_750This torch has been passed on to Case Swenson.  The young Mr. Swenson ran his own construction under the family umbrella for over 20 years.  Case joined Barry Swenson Builders’ leadership in 2013 and became president in 2014.  He, like his grandfather and undoubtedly his father, grew up doing chores on the jobsite.  The Swenson tradition of farming is still a fruitful on today.  A strong work ethic on the job and on the ranch is something the Swensons are very proud of.   It’s a tradition passed down for over 100 years that continues to create Silicon Valley as we know it. 

garden2tableThe Swensons have been incredibly philanthropic.  A personal fave of mine is the gift of land made to Garden to Table Taylor St. Farm, www.garden2table.org.  Barry Swenson Builders follows a tradition of donating to SJSU like his father.  Barry Swenson Builders is recognized as one of the most generous organizations in the Silicon Valley.  They don’t just put their money where it counts.  Barry Swenson Builders also participates through construction projects, providing real improvements to the Community.  Sacred Heart, City Team, History of San Jose and Good Karma Bikes are just a few causes they’ve swung a hammer for.  

8227078_origTremendously accomplished yet tremendously kind people- the Swensons from Evergreen have a lot to be proud of.  They have had a huge hand creating the Silicon Valley skyline, building up downtown, and continue that tradition of positive impact.  Barry Swenson Builders’ mission is in its logo and matra: Tradition, Innovation, Integrity.  It’s that simple.  Maybe that’s the recipe to success.  Mr. Swenson’s kindness and philanthropy are a bonus.  I can’t believe this innovator, preservationist, philanthropist, difference-maker came from Evergreen.  Barry Swenson grew up cultivated the 26 acres homestead near Silver Creek Road and now cultivates better buildings in a better San Jose.  Now that I’m so familiar with him, I see his signs and plaques of recognition everywhere.  Buildings for lease, Buildings being built, signage, everywhere.  He popped up at Eastside Union High School District’s Hall of Fame, having graduated in 1957.  Barry Swenson is well-known, well-respected, well-liked man and I totally understand why.  He has followed his passion and his traditions professionally and personally.  Here’s the artwork we’ve designed for generations of innovative builders.