Thursday, August 5, 2004
Hollow warehouses and factories squat in the incongruously industrial pocket of Sand City’s West End, like stoned bikers who’ve unexpectedly found themselves at a beach party. While Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel frisk about neighborhoods decked out in bikinis and sandals, the buildings in the West End of Sand City seem to stand aloof, their motorcycle boots filling with sand.
But first appearances can be deceiving. Wander around the West End some and it’s clear there’s something weird about the place. The two-story iron sculpture of the Maharishi, for instance. Or the colorful little houses overrun by flowers tucked in between the warehouses. Or the nearly two dozen art galleries and studios that have taken root amid the deserted bones of industry.
“Don’t look now,” Carmel whispers to Pacific Grove, “but I think those bikers are on acid.”
When the cost of living got too high for Sand City’s original commercial and industrial residents, the companies pulled up stakes and moved inland, leaving their warehouses and factories empty. In response to the same economic trend, local artists squeezed out of Big Sur, Carmel, Pacific Grove and Monterey began to filter into the neighborhood, converting the high-ceilinged spaces into sculpture and painting studios.
But there was a problem. The artists were also living in the warehouses. Unable to afford two rents, they were illegally converting their spaces into live-work studios. Fortunately, before the city could figure this out and evict them, artists had infiltrated the highest ranks of Sand City’s government. Three years ago, they changed the municipal zoning code to accommodate artists and other mixed-use residents, and to create more opportunity for smart growth.
“Once the Peninsula got in-filled with people and Fort Ord closed, the big industries moved out and warehouses started to come up for next to nothing,” says City Council member and artist Todd Kruper. “When the artists started living illegally in warehouses, we decided to be inclusive instead of exclusive; to create smart growth. Artists create an economically viable base for a community, so we set out to create a whole new urban design.”
Within a state known for some of the strictest building codes and environmental regulations in the nation, Sand City’s Planning and Building Department wrote a remarkable set of owner-friendly zoning rules and variances to encourage “the creative rehabilitation” of its older properties. Suddenly, this small town of 270 residents was home to more than just urban wasteland and a mega-corporate shopping complex. Suddenly, Sand City was one of the hippest places on the Peninsula.
Squeezed in between a wall of dunes, Highway 1 and Del Monte Avenue, the West End of Sand City is being described today as “industrial chic.” Entrepreneurs are buying up the warehouses and renovating their high-ceilinged interiors into gorgeous mixed-use studio homes without changing the area’s industrial veneer.
“We’re proud of our industrial uniqueness,” says Kruper. “We want them to renovate the buildings; to clear out the shell, not tear them down. Let’s use what we got.”
And it’s working. Today, a wide array of art galleries in the area is booming.
To celebrate this remarkable renaissance, the Sand City Arts Committee is sponsoring its 3rd Annual West End Celebration this Saturday. In addition to open galleries and studios, the event features non-stop entertainment at three locations on Ortiz Street beginning at 2pm.
Headlining the festival are San Francisco’s groove-oriented Global Funk Council, the percussive joyride of Bat Makumba, and local favorites like the Chicano All-Stars, Trusting Lucy and Joseph Lucido.
According to Johnny Apodaca, a West End Committee member, and a painter in a group that calls itself the Sand City Informalists, the event has been growing as the city develops its artistic personality. As proof, last year’s West End celebration featured “between 12 and 15 artists” while this year it boasts 21.
Some of the West End artists throwing their studios and galleries open to the public on Saturday are Cyndra Bradford and Jeff Daniel Smith (also of the Sand City Informalists), Susan Collins (Suskah Studio), J. Cook (Seadrift Studio), Norman Foster, Fred Slaughterback and Carol Chapman (Slaughterback-Chapman Fine Arts), Rosa Brittain, Masiah Johnson (Studio Three), Stefani Esta and Mary J. Erner (Studio II).
In addition, various guest artists will be showing their work at West End galleries and businesses such PK Fine Artifacts, the Monterey Mattress Company, Cypress Cabinets, the Crystal Rose Collection, Sculpture Works and the Monterey Fire Company. Plus, a collection of Henry Miller originals and prints will be on display at Sweet Elena’s Bakery alongside the work of various local women.
It’s a stirring show of artistic muscle for such a small place, and the artists are quick to credit Sand City officials with providing them the opportunity to create such a remarkable community. Yet doubts about the community’s sustainability have arisen.
“I think everyone wants it to keep growing,” Apodaca says. “But it’s a question of economics. I’m a little worried about the renewal of my lease next January. I’m worried they’ll raise the rent too high.”
Todd Kruper is optimistic that rents will remain reasonable in the area and hints at the possibility of new growth as a result of a proposed desalination plant in Sand City. Yet one thing’s for sure: in three short years, Sand City’s bold zoning experiment has proven that artists can be real solutions to urban rehabilitation.
Apodaca gives credit for the success to his fellow Sand City artists: “Art is like blood through an artery to the heart of a community.”