San Jose artists sought to paint murals on park water vaults
City leaders intend to enlist San Jose artists in an effort to wipe out some of the blight in TJ Martin and Jeffrey Fontana parks by painting vibrant art murals on a dozen water retention vaults.
They say the murals would add a dash of color to the two parks, which have been plagued over the years with overgrown weeds, damaged soccer fields and irrigation systems ruined by rodents.
The concept is similar to other public art projects such as brightly painted utility boxes scattered throughout the city.
The concrete vaults, owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District and used to manage excess stormwater runoff to prevent flooding, will give local artists 12 blank canvases of different sizes to cover and stylize with various images, shapes and colors.
Linda Wilson, a past president of the Martin Fontana Parks Association, said in an interview the idea for the art project was hatched about five years ago when residents approached the group to “ask if anything could be done about these because they were really ugly.” But nothing happened after it was learned the murals would have to be maintained for as long as the vaults stood.
Councilman Johnny Khamis, whose district encompasses the parks, told the Resident he’s “answering the call from the community to beautify these vaults” after fielding multiple complaints about them.
One of his staff members raised the idea last year when city parks and cultural affairs officials asked what Khamis wanted to do with $25,000 from leftover development fees earmarked for public art.
“We said the community has been interested in doing something about these water retention vaults because they look ugly,” Khamis said.
After the San Jose City Council approved the project, Khamis’ office applied for encroachment permits from the water district at the end of March to paint the vaults. The project was presented to the community at a public meeting on June 3 attended by an several dozen residents, including Wilson.
“We saw some really nice styles in the presentation,” Wilson said, adding that she doesn’t prefer any particular style so long as the artists’ work reflects the park’s natural setting.
“I think most of the people who use the parks like to see represented, in whatever style, what you see around you in the park,” she said.
Artist Lila Gemellos, whose murals can be found at Falafel’s Drive In and in Willow Glen, says she sees a painted path toward beautification for more neighborhoods outside the city’s center. Supporting local artists, discouraging graffiti and instilling a sense of community pride are just some of the project benefits Gemellos recently discussed with Khamis.
“Murals are such a cost-effective public art expense in terms of what they do for communities and how they can acknowledge and communicate our culture,” Gemellos said. “We could make our own way and our own identity.”
The city will start accepting artists’ applications around the end of July, then notify selected artists in early 2018. For more information, contact the San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs at 408-793-4344.
Preserve Willow Glen, San Jose’s history
I was surprised to read the article regarding the ongoing battle over the Willow Glen Trestle that neglected to mention the fact that its $1 million replacement was purchased years ago. Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle are not only fighting to preserve history — they are also fighting the embarrassment that will come to the elected official(s) who purchased a replacement without doing their due diligence.
Even the newest mural by Lila Gemellos suffered as a result of the politics at play: the photo in your coverage on Nov. 16 includes the Willow Glen Trestle next to a railroad crossing sign. Gemellos was instructed to paint over it. Now it features Shakespeare in the Park with “taped” corners on the replacement. Gemellos listened to her employer, but maintained her integrity. Notice any other “taped” depictions? Kudos to her.
Willow Glen and San Jose have history, folks. Let’s hold onto it, even if it means we’ve got a steel bridge to sell.
S. Paige Liu
Mural takes viewers on a trip down memory lane
A newly completed mural on Lincoln Avenue tells many old stories about Willow Glen.
The vibrant, rainbow-hued piece designed and painted by San Jose artist Lila Gemellos covers the north side of the BevMo building at 1133 Lincoln Ave., where it showcases “the culture taking place uniquely here in Willow Glen.”
Historic signs like the Garden Theatre’s and depictions of fondly remembered long-gone businesses such as the Willow Glen Basket Factory weave a tale of the neighborhood’s past, present and future. Smaller flourishes of iris and lily flowers and fruits like peaches and grapes connect to the agricultural roots of the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. Popular local pastimes including bocce ball and holiday traditions like the trolley car and a sparkling Christmas willow tree are also paid homage in Gemellos’ work.
“This is all derived from stories here,” Gemellos told the Resident. “Every single one of these fruits come from a neighbor here back in the 1800s. Some of these are pictures of family photos,” such as a portrait of Antonio Sunol.
“We’ve tried to capture it all throughout time and say something prominent about the community at large,” she added.
The mural–paid for with $12,500 from the San Jose City Council District 6 office budget–started going up late last month and immediately grabbed residents’ attention.
“The second that I painted in the old Bergmann sign…people started slowing down and taking notice what this was and that this was really about them,” Gemellos said.
Numerous residents already have taken their photo in front of the mural.
Willow Glen High School junior Julio Cerda and his girlfriend stopped by during an evening stroll to marvel at Gemellos’ work, which he called “beautiful”.
“Most of the stuff is still here,” Cerda said. “It’s inspiring. I don’t know how to explain it, but it makes me happy.”
Gemellos said that although any part of the mural will give visitors a memorable and eye-catching visual, there’s one spot with a black and white backdrop of 1950s-era Lincoln Avenue that she specifically designed as a postcard-perfect shot.
“It makes me teary eyed when people come up and drop a handbag and start posing for pictures,” she said. “That’s the whole point–come and enjoy.”
In addition to serving as a fun and interactive piece of art that tells the history of Willow Glen, the mural serves a more practical purpose.
“You can never get lost while you’re here,” Gemellos said, pointing to a map of Willow Glen that she added near the top with a pinpoint of the mural’s location. “This map points south up and north down because you’re pointed this way (south), so if you’re ever lost and stumbling around downtown Willow Glen, stumble here and you will find your way home.”
April 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm
Ambiance has never been the attraction of the Falafel’s Drive-In. It has always been about the food.
For some 46 years, aficionados have patiently waited in long lines, rain or shine, to buy the drive-in’s signature dish of pita bread stuffed with crunchy lettuce, fresh tomatoes, creamy tahini sauce and those wonderful fried falafel balls that are crispy brown on the outside and soft, vivid green on the inside. (There’s also hot sauce, which staff squirts liberally unless requested not to.)
It’s a place where it’s not at all unusual to see men in suits and ties, bikers in leathers, nurses from nearby O’Connor Hospital, construction workers, sales associates from Santana Row and high-tech guys with a smart phone in one hand and a falafel in the other sitting at the picnic tables.
Now the ambiance of Falafel’s Drive-In is changing dramatically with a 600-square-foot mural on three walls of the outdoor eating area.
Artist Lila Gemellos started working on it in January of this year, and it’s now nearing completion.
“They’re letting me be very creative,” she says, describing her work as “a collage and symbol style.”
“They wanted to focus on San Jose and our landmarks and what makes us unique.”
To that end, Gemellos has paid tribute to much of Silicon Valley, from Apple and Steve Jobs to the Santa Clara Mission, San Jose City Hall, Mount Hamilton, the Tech Museum, the San Jose Museum of Art and the Winchester House.
There’s the Falafel’s Drive-In website, its Facebook page and a Yelp page with their reviews in the mural.
Sports teams are also well represented, from the San Jose Earthquakes, San Jose Sharks and Santa Clara University Broncos to the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.
In the three months she’s been working on the mural, Gemellos has listened to patrons and engaged in multiple conversations. Many have made suggestions of what they’d like to see added to the mix of images, and she’s used many of them.
“Everybody has been super positive,” says Gemellos, who works in the morning and afternoons, taking a break around lunch time when the lines are long and the patio seats are filled.
Particularly fascinating are Gemellos’ tributes to the Falafel’s Drive-In itself, from “What’s a falafel?” and “What’s Inside the White Sauce?” to a portrait of founder Anton Nijmeh. The latter painting is positioned so patrons can stand next to it for a photo if they like.
Nijmeh bought what was then the Snow White Drive-In in 1966, initially keeping the name.
Along with the standard fare of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, fries and milkshakes, he soon slipped in a favorite Middle Eastern food from his homeland. Made from his recipe using chickpeas, Nijmeh would offer a free falafel ball to customers with their orders.
“He would tell people, ‘Try it, you’ll like it,’ and he’d give it to them for free to give it a try,” says Joanne Boyle of her father.
Hamburgers and hot dogs remain on the menu, but as the customer base for his falafels grew and grew, Nijmeh changed his eatery’s name to Falafel’s Drive-In.
Often called a “culinary visionary,” Nijmeh’s timing was perfect.
Falafels are vegetarian, and they were exotic at that time. They remain very affordable. Students from San Jose State University and San Jose City College became loyal supporters.
Even though falafels eventually popped up on other menus, fans of Falafel’s proprietors still consider theirs the standard of excellence.
Zipora Peri has been making the pilgrimage there since 1975, first from her home in San Carlos and now from Palo Alto.
“They were the only falafel place in the Bay Area,” she says to explain why she first stopped there.
“I’m from Israel, and Israelis love falafels; they are the fast food of the Mediterranean.”
Peri says that while falafels and other Middle Eastern favorites are now easier to find, she still considers the ones at Falafel’s Drive-In “the best in the Bay Area.”
She is particularly appreciative of the courtesy she finds there.
“He’s Palestinian and I’m Israeli, and Israel and Palestine are not on very good terms in the Middle East, but here they are extremely nice,” she says of Nassif Grayeb, who is most often the person taking orders at lunch time.
“I wish it would be the same thing in Israel so there would be peace and not war,” Peri says.
Food Network personality Guy Fieri shined a major spotlight on Falafel’s Drive-In in his series “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and wrote a glowing review of it in his book of the same name, so he’s featured prominently in the mural.
Falafel’s Drive-In is nearing 2,000 reviews on Yelp, almost all positive with frequent nods to the special combo of a falafel and a banana shake.
Founder Nijmeh died in 2006 at the age of 76, but he had handed over the reins to his sons and daughters well before that, and they continue to run the popular eatery.
“All the kids are still here, sons Hani, William and Jack Nijmeh and daughters Deanna Grayeb and Joanne Boyle,” says Nassif Grayeb, husband of Deanna and an employee for more than 25 years.
Boyle, born two years after her father bought the Drive-In, essentially grew up there.
“From the time I could reach the cash register, I was working, probably around 10 or 11,” she says.
“I’m still working there.”
Grayeb is candid about how Falafel’s was before they decided to add an awning and screen to the outside and new paint on the inside.
“The place was getting old, but we didn’t want to change it too much, as it’s unique,” he says.
“A lot of people came here on their first date, and for them it’s nostalgic. They brought their kids and now they bring their grandkids.
“People would sit in the rain and be uncomfortable, but they loved it. Now we have heaters and awnings and it’s more comfortable.”
It was Boyle’s husband and daughter who first suggested Gemellos was the right artist to do a mural after seeing her work at Chaboya Middle School in the Evergreen area.
Now Gemellos is putting the finishing touches on her mural, and when the acrylic paint is dry, enough, she will put a graffiti-proof seal over it.
“Nobody has defaced it at all,” she says. “It’s really exposed at night, but I think the community protects it.”
For Gemellos the commission has been a dream job.
“It’s one of my mom’s favorite lunch spots, and when I worked downtown, I’d drive down and wait in the long lines,” she says.
A native of San Jose, the artist worked in construction and property management for five years, expressing her artistic side by drawing detailed, colorful designs on shoes and selling them.
“I’ve had a wonderful experience here,” Gemellos says. “I love the food. I love the place. I love the project.”
Lila Gemellos’ work can be seen on www.noparadigmdesigns.com.
Falafel’s Drive-In, 2301 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose, open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. www.falafelsdrivein.com, 408.294.7886.
October 20, 2016
gemellos paints mural on lincoln ave
SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS ARTIST MAKES MOVE TO PUBLIC PROJECTS
Lila Gemellos, 31, has been cutting her teeth in East San Jose and Evergreen public schools, painting meaningful murals that abate graffiti. By adding to the school’s culture, Gemellos’ art is adopted by the Community, never having to paint over, touch up or wash out a mural.
With her most popular commission at the Falafel’s Drive In, Gemellos looks to break into the Public Art scene and make a larger splash with her statement murals. Well-known Willow Glen businessman, Michael Mulcahy, found the canvas within his Lincoln Avenue portfolio. A grant, made possible by Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, to the Willow Glen Business Association, allows Lila Gemellos to add to the culture of Downtown Willow Glen. Along with several other investments to Public Art on Lincoln Avenue, Councilman Oliverio is a true supporter of the Arts.
Gemellos and Mulcahy plan to bring a Historical View of Willow Glen to life at 1133 Lincoln Avenue. “In taking a survey of the murals along Lincoln, residents love the Art already installed but lament not having something that expresses their rich history. While acknowledging the present culture, we can also give people a sense of nostalgia and keep that heritage alive,” says Gemellos. The artwork itself is entirely inspired by Downtown Willow Glen’s culture.
Improvements to Lincoln Avenue’s traffic management, made permanent in late June 2016, make the mural an even better investment to building and surrounding walking Community. Along with roadway improvements, the mural should glamorize Lincoln Avenue’s more walkable route through the heart of Willow Glen’s commercial district.