Thursday, August 9, 2007
Elena Salsedo is cooking up more than galettes in her blink-and-you’ve-passed-it Sweet Elena’a café in Sand City. When the gutsy Frenchwoman established her teensy fine-art bakery in the industrial outpost of Sand City in 1994, her quiches and croissants for breakfast, pies and sandwiches and sweets for lunch were consumed by an appreciative audience of auto repair technicians, stonemasons, welders, millworkers, glaziers, screen printers and others who worked in Sand City’s network of cinderblock and corrugated steel buildings on the industrial fringe of the Peninsula. Now Sweet Elena’s is an institution, and she also shows rotating exhibits of original art.
Of course, where there was heavy equipment and few noise and emissions restrictions, there were also artists working at the heavy lifting end of the artmaking spectrum: artists and fabricators in metal and stone, creators of custom furniture and architectural components in wood, artists that wielded blowtorches and melted metal and shaved big rocks off of mountains.
Here also was that part of the urban lifecycle—old buildings with high ceilings and cheap rent—where artists traditionally gravitate to live and work, and here they did, according to Todd Kruper, who was one of them, many living illegally in their studios in an area zoned for industry.
In 2000, when Kruper served in the City Council along with artists David Pendergass and Craig Hubler, the rewriting of the city’s 25-year General Plan provided an opportunity to take Sand City in a new direction simply by embracing what was already there and encouraging more of it. Instead of considering artists live-work spaces as a zoning enforcement problem, they used the public planning process to change the zoning from heavy industry to mixed use. In 2003, Susan Collins applied for the first “sanctioned” live-work space.The rest is history.
Sand City celebrates this Saturday with the sixth and most ambitious West End Celebration in its “SoHo” district (encompassing pretty much the whole of the city) in which 20 Sand City artists open their studios to the public, galleries like PK Fine Artifacts and the Corner Gallery, and ongoing exhibition spaces at Ol’ Factory Café and Sweet Elena’s, are joined by a street-full of booths displaying more than 30 visiting artists. Throughout the day musicians and street performers entertain at locations throughout the city.
“We have only 301 residents in Sand City, yet more than 5,000 people work here during the day and on each side of the city is a shopping center where another 50,000 come to shop,” says Kruper, who moved out of his “unsanctioned” space before he ran for Council. Now, no longer a councilmember but an organizer of the West End Celebration, Kruper has a live-work-gallery space at 542 Ortiz. “It takes community, commerce and culture to develop a city, and we have all the ingredients.”
Indeed, as an investment in that goal, the city sold land far below market rate to the developers of the Design Center scheduled to open in fall. Concrete has just been poured for a large “community center” plaza there, slated to be the main stage for the entertainment on Saturday. By then, a 20-foot-high, 14,000-pound sculpture by Gregory Hawthorne will be situated in the courtyard, a fitting start for the city’s new public art program.
6TH ANNUAL WEST END CELEBRATION takes place Saturday from noon until 6pm in the SoHo district of Sand City at Contra Costa off Del Monte Avenue. Free. 582-3679, 917-9161 or sandcity.org/westend