music in the park san jose

.San Jose’s New Mural Makes a Social Media Splash

Artist Jimmy Paints and nonprofit Local Color transform San Pedro Square

music in the park san jose

San Pedro Square has come a long way since the dumpy Sizzler on the corner and the Aconda flophouse across the street. Now it’s covered with paint.

Thanks to Local Color, a woman-powered arts nonprofit, and several hundred volunteers, the block of San Pedro between Santa Clara and St. John—already permanently closed to pedestrians—is now painted in a variety of soothing hues. Muralist Jim Fonseca, aka Jimmy Paints, was chosen to design the mural, titled Threads Woven.

Beginning on Memorial Day last week, volunteers took to the streets and started painting 12,000 square feet of asphalt. Supplies were stored in the abandoned Togo’s at 18 N. San Pedro. I can’t think of a better use for an empty sandwich shop.

Yet before everyone got started painting, Salazar put on a wireless microphone and doled out the instructions, along with a prepared checklist of housekeeping items.

I’m paraphrasing, but her spiel went a little something like this: Be nice to passersby. Bathrooms are down the street at the coffee shop. Promote the project and talk it up to people if they ask. Load the paint onto the weenie roller evenly by rolling it against the sloped angle of the tray. Apply in multiple thin coats. Keep your roller tray in the work area of the color you are working in so inevitable drips are at least in the color zone.

If you finish with the paint you are given, flag down a zone manager to refill your paint tray. Do not apply the paint intentionally to eyes, skin, mouth, ears, nose, hair or any other vulnerable bodily areas. Paint within the designated lines. Paint while walking backwards to avoid stepping in fresh paint. Stay hydrated. Wear sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. Verbally guide pedestrians to the places they wish to patronize, and tell them Local Color is awesome and they should become long-term donors.

Watching all of this in action, I could not help but stand there in sheer awe of the situation, for a number of reasons. First of all, given that it was Memorial Day, I began paying tribute to the fallen entities that were no longer with us.

Jim Fonseca, aka Jimmy Paints, working on a computer
Artist Jim Fonseca, aka Jimmy Paints. Photo by Alex Knowbody.

Aside from the aforementioned Sizzler, where bums occasionally staggered in and pocketed the bread rolls, there was the Aconda Hotel, a flophouse situated above what’s now the Starbucks and Nick the Greek. At the time, the street-level business was El Maghreb Moroccan Restaurant.

As Salazar and crew continued to paint over the next couple of days, I continued the memorial in my own head, as always. 

My readers would blow a gasket if I failed to mention Laundry Works, quite possibly San Jose’s first real alternative rock club in the modern era, located upstairs in what’s now the San Pedro Square Market offices. Chris Isaak, Jonathan Richman, Camper Van Beethoven, the Meat Puppets and several local bands all created a short-lived scene that essentially spearheaded the whole SoFA rock era of the 1990s that soon followed. On the last night, a blowout party even produced a record, All Washed Up: The Last Days of the Laundry Works, which you can still find out there in various places.

Still standing, however, is Old Spaghetti Factory. It’s been there since 1972.

Photo rendering of the mural Threads Woven, created by Jimmy Paints
Renderings by Jimmy Paints show his design for Threads Woven.

We can go on and on, of course. I could throw in Hamburger Mary’s, Ernesto’s Espresso, The Last Laugh or even the San Jose Potato & Onion Distributors farther up San Pedro. And don’t even get McEnery started on the Tower Saloon.

But after all my memorializing is done, though, here’s the real deal: No one ever spent any time shooting drone footage of the blank asphalt in San Pedro Square. No one blasted photos of empty cement all over Instagram. Now the biggest street mural in San Jose history has become the highlight of the social media month. The imagery has been circulating all week. Years from now, people will wonder what it even possibly looked like before the mural was there.

We’ve come a long way. Forty years ago, there was no such thing in San Jose as a woman-powered arts nonprofit so adept at getting along with politicians and landlords as that of Local Color. We are lucky to have them.

Gary Singh
Gary Singh
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.


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