I think we all really had hoped 2021 was going to be a miracle comeback year after 2020, and the final assessment will probably end up as “Well, that could have been worse.” But with Thanksgiving here, let’s take a moment to reflect on the positive.
So here’s my annual list of people and things I’m grateful for that kept this year in Silicon Valley from falling into the “worse” category.
• Dr. Sara Cody and the other Bay Area health officers still top my list for what’s been an amazing vaccination campaign in the region, where the percentage of vaccinated people is in the high-70s. And they haven’t been alone: Donations from Silicon Valley tech leader Godfrey Sullivan and a bunch of Bay Area companies led by Bloom Energy VP Carl Guardino turned the pediatric vaccination clinic at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds’ Exposition Hall into an awesome jungle experience with palm trees, animal statues, paper lanterns and activities for kids.
• All the Bay Area arts groups that went through hoops — sometimes moving hoops — to bring live performances back to audiences this year. A big round of applause is owed to everyone at City Lights Theater Company, San Jose Stage, Tabard Theatre, Opera San Jose, TheatreWorks, San Jose Jazz and all the other companies that are working to keep us entertained (and keep artists working).
• Khori Dastoor, who is taking her talent to Houston’s Grand Opera in January after a too-short tenure as Opera San Jose’s general director, deserves our thanks for pushing the company forward with a diverse, exciting season. The same goes for Meredith King, who kept the spirit of late founder Richard Orlando alive at San Jose’s Northside Theatre until its closing was announced this year.
• Andrew Bales, who is heading off into retirement soon, deserves a standing ovation after decades as a leader in San Jose’s arts community, a role that included resurrecting the symphony 20 years ago. And a second thanks to Bales and the board of the renamed San Jose Symphony for putting the city’s name back in lights.
• Teri Hope, Jonathan Knowles and Michael Jacobi and everyone else at Los Gatos Music and Arts who have worked to keep the summer Jazz on the Plazz series alive for 2022.
• Rob Jensen, Warren Trezevant and their team of artists for bringing back “Sonic Runway” to San Jose City Hall for the next six years, a big win for the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, led by Kerry Adams-Hapner.
• The artists — including Alfonso Salazar, Lila Gemellos, Chuba Oyolu, Roberto Romo, Roan Victor and Kristina Micotti — who added to San Jose’s rich and growing collection of murals. And thanks to Carol Dabbs and the Los Altos Rotary Club, who turned the town into an art gallery this summer with more than four dozen fiberglass bears painted by local artists.
• San Jose State University President Mary Papazian, who is leaving her post next month because of a sexual harassment scandal in the athletics department but still deserves appreciation for building bridges between SJSU and the city of San Jose better than any president has in decades.
• Nancy Bavor, who is retiring as executive director of the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, for providing a platform for artists to add to the downtown SoFA district’s rich tapestry — both inside and around their building.
• The Abierto program, which designated $1.4 million from San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s Budget Office for the arts community and public space activations all summer and into the fall. That included two Viva CalleSJ events and others coordinated by Filco Events, the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, the San Jose Downtown Association and San Jose Jazz.
• The seemingly tireless workers and volunteers at all the Bay Area food banks and community kitchens who are helping keep the homeless and at-risk families fed during a second year of COVID-19 deserve a second helping of gratitude.
• History San Jose CEO Bill Schroh Jr., for working to raise up communities whose histories in San Jose have not always been told. And a personal thank you to Schroh, Events Manager Steve Bright and emcee Lissa Kreisler for making this year’s Valley of Heart’s Delight dinner, where I was the guest of honor, a highlight of my year.
• Chris Wilder, the Valley Medical Center Foundation’s executive director, who suffered a debilitating stroke in March but continues to provide inspiration with every step of his recovery.
• And thanks to all of you, our readers in print and online, who make this a great community with a great story to tell. Have a safe and happy
Picking up the weekly groceries might be a more usual reason to visit the new Market Park shopping center on Berryessa Road in San Jose, but stopping to gaze at a set of new murals while you’re there isn’t a bad idea at all.
The Bumb family, which owns the center and the nearby San Jose Flea Market, brought on muralist Lila Gemellos to work with KRP Architects to add some color with a historical touch to the blank walls of the shopping center’s buildings. The result was a series of murals that celebrate the east valley’s bucolic past.
There are images of a Peninsular Railway car making its way up Alum Rock, children playing at Penitencia Creek, fieldworkers drying apricots and a scenic view of an orchard-filled valley from Mount Hamilton Road. There’s even a nod to the Bumb family’s own history, with a box of Berryessa cherries labeled Bumb Family Farms.
While Gemellos’ always colorful work has a wide range, the San Jose native has told me she enjoys being able to add history to her work, especially to help newcomers learn about what this valley was like before silicon. You can see more examples like that at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, where Gemellos led a team that created a series of murals celebrating the many cities that make up Santa Clara County.
There’s a lot more of her work all around San Jose, and you can see a good collection on her website, www.gemellosmurals.com, or keep up with her on Instagram at @gemellosmurals.
On November 8th the Depot Marketplace held a mural unveiling outside of Sprouts. The mural was started on November 1st and completed on November 8th in a vibrant mural that honors Prescott’s railway history while creating an Instagram-worthy space.
“Mural artists and visual storyteller, Lila Gemellos, is a leading placemaking artist and we are elated to bring her vision and talent to Depot Marketplace,” said Dan Frederiksen of AZ Commercial.
The mural featuring an ode to the Santa Fe railway and train depot along with an illustration of iconic local scenery including the Prescott Dells covers two walls, the ceiling and even rolls out onto the floor. The new community space will also include updated seating and lighting to enhance the customer experience during their trip to Depot Marketplace.
“Placemaking projects create real engagement. Interactive murals are the future of the craft, but placemaking is the future of culture,” said Gemellos who has been involved in painting over 15,000 square feet of murals ranging from public schools to shopping districts.
Visitors including City of Prescott’s Billie Orr and Dancing for the Stars 2020 Celebrity Dancer, Anne-Marie Szabo, and the Swirl-N-Top mascot, Sprinkles all posed for pictures to celebrate the unveiling.
About Depot Marketplace
Located at the corner of Sheldon and Montezuma in downtown Prescott, just two blocks from the historic courthouse square, Depot Marketplace resides on one of the busiest intersections in the city. It is the only grocery-anchored center in Downtown Prescott and serves the retail, dining, and service needs of the downtown residents and visitors year-round. The center includes over 120,000 square feet of retail space and is home to nearly 30 tenants including Sprouts, Walgreens, Staples, Stratos Wealth Partners, Starbucks, Chipotle, Cost Cutters, Massage Envy, Panda Express, Swirl-N-Top, Streets of New York, Cost Cutters, AAA and more.
To learn more visit depotmarketplaceprescott.com or follow social media at:
Facebook: Depot Marketplace
About the Artist: Lila Gemellos
PRESCOTT, AZ (October 16, 2019) – Depot Marketplace is putting paint to wall November 1st – 8th in a vibrant mural that honors Prescott’s railway history while creating an Instagram-worthy space in the premier downtown shopping destination.
Depot Marketplace is a vital, historically significant and commercially important retail and business center. With the new murals, located in the outdoor space between Sprouts and AAA, Depot Marketplace is creating an experience for customers, pedestrians, and tourists to take part in. Not only does one learn about Prescott, but they have the perfect social media photo opportunity to document it.
“Mural artist and visual storyteller, Lila Gemellos, is a leading placemaking artist and we are elated to bring her vision and talent to Depot Marketplace,” said Dan Frederikson of AZ Commercial.
The mural featuring an ode to the Santa Fe railway and train depot along with an illustration of iconic local scenery including the Prescott Dells will cover two walls, the ceiling, and even roll out onto the floor. The new community space will also include updated seating and lighting to enhance the customer experience during their trip to Depot Marketplace.
“Placemaking projects create real engagement. Interactive murals are the future of the craft, but placemaking is the future of culture,” said Gemellos who has been involved in painting over 15,000 square feet of murals ranging from public schools to shopping districts.
We invite patrons to grab a coffee or sandwich and watch the artist in action live throughout the week. Progress will also be documented on Instagram @DepotMarketplace.
The historic Santa Fe Depot, which borders Depot Marketplace on E Sheldon Street, has been a focal point for Prescott since the early 1900s, whether in sending or receiving men back from war, greeting visiting dignitaries, or simply in conducting the daily business of the town. The surrounding area was also affected, spawning various railroad support facilities, worker’s housing and other functions to serve the needs of the trains. With few exceptions, most of these are now gone, including the rails themselves. The Depot building at today’s Depot Marketplace remains as the largest and most significant symbol of an era when roads were few and much of the livelihood of early Prescott depended upon what came and went through the portals of the Santa Fe Depot. This mural will serve as a timeless reminder of that rich history and further bring the community together in a space that has done so for 100s of years
Depot Marketplace is located at 100 E Sheldon Street in Prescott, AZ.
About Depot Marketplace
Located at the corner of Sheldon and Montezuma in downtown Prescott, just two blocks from the historic courthouse square, Depot Marketplace resides on one of the busiest intersections in the city. It is the only grocery anchored center in Downtown Prescott and serves the retail, dining, and service needs of the downtown residents and visitors year-round. The center includes over 120,000 square feet of retail space and is home to nearly 30 tenants including Sprouts, Walgreens, Staples, Stratos Wealth Partners, Starbucks, Chipotle, Cost Cutters, Massage Envy, Panda Express, Swirl-N-Top, Streets of New York, Cost Cutters, AAA and more.
About the Artist: Lila Gemellos
After studying Oil Painting at the University of California, Riverside, Lila Gemellos found rejection in the narrow Arts scene in 2004. Instead she began a career in commercial real estate and property management. When her industry was downsized during the economic downturn, Gemellos confronted adversity by relying on her artistic talents to make ends meet. Gemellos’s first creative endeavor was selling skateboard shoes with custom artwork. She brings those experiences, along with due diligence, careful research and whimsical inspirations to her art. Her work is well known throughout California and Gemellos looks to take her inspired narratives to the public art scene all over the country. Follow Gemellos on Instagram @gemellosmurals.
For the people who commissioned the mural, it’s a visual ode to San Jose’s potential. For the artist who painted the piece, it’s a convergence of her own past and present.
Lila Gemellos painted some of downtown’s most prominent landmarks—San Pedro Square, the Bank of Italy and the Museum of Modern Art—on the side of the Fountain Alley building, which is being transformed into a brand new tower by the mural’s patron, Urban Catalyst. She also included images of the developer’s future projects—namely The Icon tower slated for the former Chevron gas station at 147 E. Santa Clara St. and the eight-story hotel planned for the now-shuttered Keystone Restaurant Supply site at San Carlos and Josefa streets.
“This is Urban Catalyst’s story of what they want to see for San Jose: a busy metropolis where the past and present collide, where the experience of San Jose is colored, rich and vibrant,” Gemellos says.
But the city’s story is part of her own narrative, too.
A San Jose native, Gemellos says she once put her dream of becoming an artist on hold for a career in the real estate industry. So when Urban Catalyst recruited her to adorn the former Lido Nightclub with a vibrant painted cityscape, it intertwined her professional pursuits and personal passion.
Gemellos took her first oil painting class at San Jose’s Museum of Modern Art—to which she pays homage in the mural—when she was 5 years old and began selling her paintings when she was 8. In her late teens, she majored in art studio with a concentration in oil painting at UC Riverside.
But those halcyon days came to an abrupt halt. Just two quarters into her college career, she was diagnosed with a debilitating thyroid disease.
“I almost had to give up my dream of becoming an artist,” Gemellos says. “I got sick and I came home. And I needed workers’ benefits.”
So, she did what she felt necessary to survive, taking up a job as an accounting clerk for a property developer. By night, however, she continued to create and sell art.
Then, another setback.
The economic recession of 2008 devastated the real estate industry, forcing companies like hers to dramatically downsize. She was one of the casualties. The layoff marked a turning point, though. For the first time in a long time, she began seriously considering making a living as a full-time artist.
“I was 25,” Gemellos recalls. “I had the opportunity in the prime of my life to really see if I can make this [art] happen.”
She took plenty of small-time gigs. She painted faces. She made balloon animals at parties. She painted skate and resold them for $100 a pop. “I would go around Starbucks for eight hours a day and pass out cards, discussing what makes my shoes different,” Gemellos says.
The tireless talent-for-hire finally got a break when a customer asked her to paint a mural on a new house in Gilroy. After that, she began to get a steady stream of mural jobs. Among the many murals she’s worked on in the years since are the ones she painted at Falafel’s Drive in, Dove Hill Elementary School and Eastridge Mall.
Now, her latest mural makes for a bright new addition to San Jose’s historic downtown.
Standing in front of the piece on a recent morning, Urban Catalyst Chief Operating Officers Joshua Burroughs admired the dripping paint at the bottom of the mural, which he said denotes the melting pot of cultures that comprise San Jose.
Among many more things the mural represents, Gemellos says, it’s a symbol of opportunity—a sign that things are looking up for the city.
“We’re from paradise—from somewhere that’s economically stable relative to the rest of the world,” she says. “I know some people don’t feel this way, but when you are born here, you kind of win the lottery.”
SAN JOSE — Despite persistently drawing criticism for the way it manages the struggling Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, a nonprofit has been granted a new 20-year contract to continue running the 158-acre property.
The Board of Supervisors approved the contract Tuesday at a time when the county also is contemplating redevelopment plans for the fairgrounds at Tully and Monterey roads in San Jose. Supervisor Cindy Chavez has proposed creating a 55-acre public park there and building a museum displaying historic neon signs.
The Fairgrounds Management Corporation also has proposed new uses for the site, including a family entertainment center, hotel and sports facilities for the San Jose Giants, San Jose Earthquakes and USA Cricket.
The 20-year contract allows the county to terminate the agreement at any point with 90-day written notice.
As part of the approval, Fairgrounds Management Corporation must submit a draft master plan by the end of April 2020 outlining its vision for revamping the property, and submit regular reports about its finances, upcoming projects, maintenance and capital improvement plans.
The length of the agreement is meant to provide stability for the Fairgrounds Management Corporation, or FMC, which has operated on year-to-year extensions and three-year contracts since taking over the fairgrounds in 1995.
Supervisor Joe Simitian, who abstained from voting, objected to the contract’s length, especially since the board hasn’t yet decided what it wants to do with the property. He suggested going with a 10-year contract instead.
“I think our board has frankly struggled to reach any consensus on what the property could and should look like beyond the next 10 years,” Simitian said. “Now we’re talking about a hotel, and a minor league baseball park, and office building — these are 30-, 40-, 50-year uses.”
He also pushed the FMC to provide more frequent updates so major proposals won’t get too far along without board input.
“I don’t want proposals showing up that are 95 percent baked, that commit us for 40 years,” Simitian said.
Chavez said she’s comfortable with the agreement because the county can end it anytime. “The way this is structured, it allows for severability at anytime based on the board’s desire,” she said.
The county formed the FMC in 1995 after a previous operator declared bankruptcy. But the organization’s management practices have been criticized for years, including by a grand jury report in 2011 and another one earlier this yea that blamed it for the fairgrounds’ decline.
In its heyday, the county fair ran for two weeks and drew hundreds of thousands of visitors. But as attendance has fallen, the fair has lost money year after year.
Last year, the FMC said the fair turned a corner. Attendance nearly doubled from the previous year and the event turned a profit for the first time in three decades. Though the profit was only $14,000, that was substantially better than the $245,000 loss in 2017.
Although the FMC did not report final attendance numbers or profit or loss figures for this summer’s fair in its 2020 budget proposal and business plan, the plan partially blames the 2019 fair’s “unfavorable financial result” on the Gilroy Garlic Festival mass shooting that happened a few days before.
The organization is projecting a 9 percent growth in its overall revenues in 2020 and says it plans to bolster reserves as its revenues grow.
Chavez has said the county should give the fairgrounds’ new leadership a chance to perform; the current executive director, Abe Andrade, joined the organization in 2018. He was previously the chief financial officer for San Jose’s now defunct redevelopment agency.
Andrade didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the new agreement.
This is the fourth time the county has tried to redevelop the property since 1998.
In the early 2000s, the county struck an agreement to build a House of Blues concert venue on part of the site, but that fell through after a recession scuttled financing. Two other attempts in the 2000s to solicit redevelopment proposals didn’t go anywhere.
More than 1,300 people have signed a petition calling on the county to build transitional housing for the homeless at the fairgrounds, but supervisors haven’t taken up that idea. At a meeting in October, the board opted to pursue plans to revamp the fairgrounds as a public event space.
The county has previously built more than 500 units of housing on the site.
Effort underway to help find solutions to address Bay Area’s housing affordability crisis
By David Louie
Wednesday, October 24, 2018 06:22PM
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) —
Affordable housing– It’s an issue that’s generating lots of complaints but scant solutions. But a concerted effort is underway in the South Bay to identify ways to solve the crisis at the grassroots level and at the ballot box.
Lila Gemellos took a break this week from her work on a mural she’s completing at Santana Row to join housing advocates and others to brainstorm. They are trying to find solutions to address affordable housing. As an artist, she hasn’t always earned enough to pay the rent.
RELATED: Study: It would take 20.5 years of saving to afford down payment for SJ home
“Public art is absolutely how people experience the city, and so we absolutely should be providing affordable housing for artists.”
These are the startling facts about what it takes to afford to rent or to buy a house in San Jose.
“In San Jose, you have to earn $52 an hour to afford the average price rent,” said Kevin Zwick, CEO of the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, “and if you want to try to buy a house, you have to have a salary of over $250,000.”
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is in the second year of a three-year effort to get people to identify solutions by gathering around tables.
RELATED: American Dream of buying a home may be unattainable for majority of Bay Area residents, study finds
“Then we’re talking with people how they can go into their communities, talk to their neighbors, talk to the City Council people, to try to do a more organic approach to at least getting people talking about this,” said Greg Avis, the foundation’s interim CEO.
Year-by-year, it’s getting tougher for people to come up with down payments to buy a house. Zillow research says it now takes nearly 22 years of saving to come up with a 20-percent down on a median-priced San Jose house. Twenty years ago, it took 10 years of saving.
Voters on Nov. 6 also are going to asked to approve potential solutions– two statewide propositions and in San Jose, a local measure V, that will raise billions of dollars for affordable housing and for homelessness prevention housing for individuals with mental health issues.
Cornerstone for the Arts Awarded to Eastridge Center
What’s the Biz Recognition
District 3, Office of
Councilman Raul Peralez
September 23rd, 2018
CONTENT MAGAZINE FEATURE – August 2018
Photography by Daniel Garcia
Here’s what’s new in Eastridge’s $15 million makeovernew play area for kids is part of a makeover for Eastridge Shopping Center in East San Jose, which will have a grand re-opening April 6-8. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Ar
PUBLISHED: April 4, 2018 at 11:53 am | UPDATED: April 4, 2018 at 1:10 pm
Before Valley Fair and Santana Row, Eastridge was the queen of the malls when it opened in 1971. Once the largest enclosed shopping center in the West, it’s safe to say Eastridge relinquished its lofty status long ago. But the mall is approaching its late 40s with a new look and approach, courtesy of a $15 million makeover.
Since Pacific Retail Capital Partners purchased the East San Jose shopping center last year, it has embarked on a strategy to make Eastridge Center more relevant to the community around it. That effort included bringing in artist Lila Gemellos to provide a sense of place through a series of murals in the mall and holding a Taste for the Space contest to give a local food truck operator a shot at locating an eatery inside the mall. Chefs Lai Chao, Ryan Gallego and Jason Artajos from Trifecta Cooks won that contest will be joining the mall’s food lineup in August.
Among Eastridge’s new features are a kids’ play area, a family lounge with a TV where kids can chill out, and upgraded interior touches that include more seating, greenery, a bubbling fountain and a cherry blossom tree. The Eatery food court includes new restaurant offerings, community tables with charging stations, and kid-size chairs in a family seating area called the Honeycomb.
All that work will be celebrated with a three-day “grand re-opening” that starts Friday and has a different focus each day. Food will be the big thing Friday, with a 1 p.m. ribbon cutting followed by a 2 p.m. panel on San Jose’s food scene, plus chef demos, food trucks and music. On Saturday, art will be in the spotlight, with dance and music performances every hour from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., a makers market, an open mic showcase and a community mural painting. The festivities wrap up Sunday with a focus on families, with Coffee with a Cop at 11 a.m., an appearance by SJ Sharkie at noon, and a family expo from 1 to 5 p.m. that includes bounce houses, face painting and a meet-and-greet with DreamWorks’ Trolls.
For more information, go to www.eastridgecenter.com.
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.