Sunday, September 19, 2010

Art in the Park: a new art and music festival from Arts of Point Richmond

Looking down at the Art in the Park festival from Crest Avenue.

Si Se Puede ("Yes we can") must have been the motto of Arts of Point Richmond, which has been a very actively involved civic group since its founding a little more than a year ago.  The Sunday Art in the Park Festival was proof of the pudding.  Many artists brought their white canvas canopies to the parking area around the Mechanics Bank across the street from the Natatorium.  Ignoring traffic whizzing by right next to them, since they did not close the streets for this event,  they proudly displayed their hand made art pieces. Organizers said they made the decision to put the tents in the street, along the strip usually reserved for diagonal parking, when they found out how damp the grass was in the overcast morning.

Ceramicist Virgie Blackmon.

Handmade plates by Virgie Blackmon.

Lean back a little and you might get hit by an AC Transit bus, means nothing to these fearless artists who love to show and sell their art work to the public. Their husbands and others were right there egging them on, playing and singing music on the little stage on the steps to the Mechanics Bank building. 

Mayor McLaughlin stepping down the stairs of the Mechanics Bank Point Richmond branch after describing her business trip to Spain on behalf of the City of Richmond, and how while she was there, she went to the town of Guernica to see the famous painting by Pablo Picasso and how they had made a copy of it in tile mosaic that she had been very impressed with.  Mayor McLaughlin is a wonderful ambassador for Richmond, I am sure that everyone will agree.

There must be some symbolic significance of a bunch of artists having a festival on the steps of a local bank, but the only one that comes to mind is, "Hope springs eternal."

How does a little girl climb a mountain?

One step at a time.

Just one more step!

Hooray!  Mission accomplished.  And the payoff?  A big smile.

Of course it was a wonderful showcase for the art work, since the bank was recently relocated to the Trainmasters building, which was dragged out of the Santa Fe rail yards and placed in its current location when the Santa Fe expanded its switching yard.  We don't think about that much, since we like to kid ourselves that we live in another Sausalito, but there's a huge railroad switching yard right next to our neighborhood.  Now nobody will be able to forget it, since the Mechanics Bank has put their offices in the old Trainmasters Building, right across from the Natatorium which was rebuilt without any extra parking spaces for the swimmers.

Plunge supporters David Vincent and Heinz Lankford
speaking with Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

How did Plunge/Natatorium supporters David Vincent and Heinz Lankford get into an Arts of Point Richmond  festival?  They have made an art form out of raising money for civic projects.  They will talk to anyone who will listen.

Plunge/Natatorium supporter David Vincent
speaking to Jan Lyons, Sonja Darling and Matty.

.  The Plunge supporters got that swimming pool rebuilt by being ubiquitous: i.e, everywhere and all things to all people, eternally on the lookout for money for the swimming pool.  Notice how they got there early and strategically placed themselves so they were in the path of nearly everyone who came to the art festival.

Plunge/Natatorium supporters David Vincent (r) and
Heinz Lankford (l) speaking to Richmond
City Councilman Tom Butt and his wife Shirley.

Maybe they will persuade the mayor and the city council  to build a parking structure nearby or donate some money to paint the trim on the Natatorium. Architecture is a a field of art in college, so it kind of fits in with the art-themed festival, doesn't it?.  The plunge architect further cut down on the amount of space available for outdoor art festivals by landscaping the Plunge front yard with native plants instead of good old-fashioned grass, and putting up a mushroom for kids to climb up on so they could see if their moms are coming down the street in their car to come and get them from swimming lessons.  Maybe an old fashioned parking lot would look good there.  We have to be practical.  Dodging moving traffic after swimming lessons is not most people's idea of having fun. 

The historic wig wag and crossing arms that caused the fight with the Historic Society that caused
aggressive railroad workers to awaken law abiding Point Richmond citizens who had to go to work in the morning--law abiding, hard working Point citizens who normally wouldn't care whether the wig wag stayed or went, but became involved because they were being wakened at all hours of the night by railroad horns.

Richmond's finest firefighters exit from their fire station across these tracks.  Luckily they have another way to get out of Point Richmond if these tracks are blocked, through the Point, down Tewksburg and over the over pass.  A few minutes might mean the difference between life and death for someone.

These railroad tracks go past the Plunge/Natatorium
through their own tunnel, to Miller Park, where they
run along the edge of Miller Park.  They are no longer used
on the other side of the tunnel, is my understanding.  since there is
no longer a ferry terminal for them to take cargo to
as there was in the 1930's, they only use this line for switching
trains cars.  The ferry terminal is now a historic park.  It would
look nice as a parking lot for the Plunge/Natatorium.

One person suggested putting a parking lot where the tennis courts used to be, but how are people going to exit that area without getting hit by people coming out of the car tunnel who can't see because of the adjustment to the light after you get out of the tunnel?  I guess they would have to turn right and go through the tunnel, turn right and go up Western Drive, and back down Washington Avenue.

Here's a closeup of the train tunnel to Miller Park.  There's
light at the end of the tunnel.  Ha ha, that's a joke.  This would
 make a nice location for a parking lot for the Plunge/Natatorium
and the Mechanics Bank could put an ATM machine there and
call it a bank.  We might even be able to get tourists
to come here with an attraction like that.

There is an empty lot right next to the tracks in back of the Mechanics bank, but the railroad will probably think of some reason why we cannot park our cars there because historically the railroads have kept every square inch of land that got deeded to them two centuries ago by the federal government, and you'd practically need an act of Congress to get a parking lot there.  And I certainly would not want my first and last congressional favor wasted by getting another parking lot built next to a bank.  I'd save it for something much more important than that. While they are making a grassy field out of the refinery (what Tom Butt once jokingly said he wanted to do), I think they ought to consider ripping up the railroad tracks that cross West Richmond Avenue.  They can keep the crossing arms AND the wig wag, just get rid of the railroad tracks, then pave it over and make the whole thing into a parking lot, inside the tunnel, maybe.  And they could put an ATM machine in there too and call it a bank.  It would definitely be a first. 

These are the railroad tracks looking in the other direction,
toward the freeway and the BNSF switching yard.

Sallie Robertson and Jim Dewitt had a student architect who had drawn up plans to close off Park Place and make the whole area into a grassy park, but Richard Lompa opposed it.  Now the county has taken the first step towards doing that by closing it every Wednesday afternoon to see if anyone misses it.  If you think it can't happen here, think again.  There actually is a city street, a little piece of Golden Gate Avenue between High Street and Water Street that has reverted to jungle up on the hill in Point Richmond because nobody did anything to maintain it as a street.  A mudslide closed it to traffic. It gradually went back to dirt path surrounded by some very nice looking wildly growing green stuff.  You can see erosion in back of apartment buildings probably because someone was doing a sting and urging people to build without the proper permits.  But the sting affects the future generations.  As one local resident said about thousands of barrels of toxic waste piled up on the waterfront in barrels and covered with cement, "It won't start leaking for 50 years and I won't be here then, so why should I worry about it?"  It's like planting a time bomb for future generations.  Writing about it is like leaving a message in a time capsule so the future generations will know where to look for what's causing their problems.

Near here is a  historic railroad crossing wigwag signal  that the Historic Society had a big fight with the railroad to let us keep.  The railroad kept the wig wag but added short crossing arms in addition to the wig wag.  While the fight was going on, they blasted the whole neighborhood with train whistles all night long, telling us in the press that they had a legal right to do that to us.  Their fight was just with the Historic Society but that fact didn't matter to the railroad because they hit the whole neighborhood with sound, which echos up the side of the hill, just to show us who is boss, I guess.  Before there were satellites, the people who lived on the hill used to watch out for the railroad and the refinery and everything else around here. We were considered valued neighbors to big industry.  Luciano Forner used to talk about topping some of the trees that stand between us and the inner harbor, because they had grown up so high, we could no longer see the inner harbor.  They had been planted for erosion control in the 1970's. 

Here's a closeup of those railroad tracks going under the freeway and you
can also see a piece of one of the streets behind them. 

You can't really see the hugeness of the RR switching yards in these photos.  This used to be a small
RR switching yard and then it expanded and they moved the Indians out of the boxcars they apparently were living in because they did security work for the Santa Fe RR, since they had a treaty with the US Government for jobs and homes along the line that went through Indian land in New Mexico.  That's why it's called the Santa Fe RR.  Santa Fe, New Mexico, comprenez.  So if you
fire an Indian, you are losing a whole lot of safety and security expertise.  All I can say is, I feel sorry for you if you do that, but I have not heard of any Indians losing their jobs recently.

Now we are just dog food for big industry.  Every night I get down on my sore knees and pray that the railroad doesn't do that to us again, although I no longer have a job that I have to get enough sleep for so I can get up and go to it, anymore.    I can't believe anyone would fight like that over a wig wag at one city street.  Their hostility to Point Richmonders was incomprehensible and unexplained.  Local street people said that the train moved at five miles an hour through that intersection and they thought there was no need for crossing arms.  The railroad (the federal government) just wanted to show us local people who was boss.  There are a lot of people like that around here. 

Mayor McLaughlin: "In Spain, I went to Guernica."  It was a large
mural painted by Pablo Picasso to memorialize the horrors of war.

The city retaliated by threatening to put a casino in Point Molate and legalize marijauna, things that are considered unsafe in an industrial area, by the local people.   So now that we have crossing arms and wig wags both,  we are doubly safe from the non-existent possibility of being hit by a slow moving train at that intersection. 

This large play structure called a historic mushroom, needs to have
child safe padding placed underneath it immediately.  The doctors
in this town do not need new business that much.

The last time someone was hit at that RR crossing was in the 1930's when a car crossing that intersection was hit by a train and it was discovered to have a trunk full of bootlegged liquor.  The person who was driving the car was the father of Richard Granzella, who used to be the president of Richmond Sanitary, the garbage company.  He confirmed the fact that was his father.  The story was in the local newspaper, I think it was the Richmond Independent.  How did I find out about it?  I did some historic research many years ago, just browsing local newspapers published during Prohibition, because my father said there were bootleggers here and he thought they were heros.  That was the history of Winehaven, I guess.  However, the local people did not think they were heros because many people got sick from the booze they made.  The local people were ashamed of them and did not want me publicizing their family involvement in bootlegging, except for Mr. Granzella.  Some local people went blind because of the bootlegged liquor in this area.  Most of those people I talked to about that 30 years ago are dead now, so now we can write about it.

 Since we don't have a Safeway here for them to put a bank branch in, the Trainmasters Building is a good second best. Next thing you know, the Mechanics Bank will have a branch inside the Natatorium, or even in that culvert in San Pablo they are getting ready to renovate. Where's the staid, old, protecting-your-money-from-the-vicissitudes-of-life bank image?  It's a new era, thanks to ATM machines.

Ceramics by Liza Allen (r), accompanied by
Victor Coffield (l).

It's your basic traffic nightmare intersection so why not gum it up some more with a bunch of middle aged lady artists putting their canopies up in the street, taking up the only parking spaces left?  I am proud to say I am part of that group, but that I did not help plan for or participate in this day of action, only to make a poster for it at the insistence of AOPR president Linda Drake, who is married to a firefighter.  Almost everyone who goes in and out of Point Richmond and a lot of Brickyard Cove residents too, go past this intersection.  So Arts of Point Richmond got a lot of attention today.  We put ourselves on the map, you might say.

Jean Brady of Barefoot Books, in pirate costume. 
Artists were encouraged to wear costumes.. Jean
sometimes has a booth at the Farmers Market.

Early childhood children's art activity by Shirley Martinez (l) 
and Lena Reaner.  Lena says she just got her teacher's permit.
(I couldn't do it this time because of sciatica and because
I had to go to a block party that day.)

Artist Linda Drake, president of AOPR
talking to Richard Lompa.

Saskia (l) and Sylvia Ledesma (r) at their T-shirt booth.

Wendy DeWitt (l), Arlin Robbins and Sallie DeWitt,
from the Point Richmond Art Collective gallery.

Earrings by Tom Edwards

Mermaid in bas relief by Arlin Robbins. 

Arlin Robbins said  this is called cold-cast bronze.  It's a resin with bronze powder in it.  It's durable but more affordable than real bronze.  Arlin said she has been working in metal for 40 years.

Harry Henderson and Lisa Yount.  They call
themselves "Tiger Eye and Lion Light."

Barbara Hayse wearing her seed-bead necklace.

Woven beaded  necklace, about $220.
Smaller beads cost more because it takes
longer to make the necklace.

Woven bracelet that could have been on the
cover of a jewelry magazine.

Tools of the trade.  Patience is another ingredient.
She also does tatting, which she said is basically making
square knots.  It takes a long time to make things
that way.  I guess that's how they used to keep young
women out of trouble.  They made them sit around all day

Barbara Hayse says she loves her life. 
In fact, she even has a flier that proclaims it.

She explained why it takes a long time to make this.

Richard Melvin and Tom Viengvilai. Tom is
Laotian-American.  He was talking about the
many Laotians in this area, who have a cultural
festival once a year that doesn't
get much publicity, usually.

Arts of Point Richmond founder Altha Humphrey
showing her award-winning knitted scarves,
$30 each.