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Photograph by George Sakkestad

New Vision: Carol Trengove leads volunteers and artists in developing a vision for the Pajaro Valley Gallery, a Watsonville nonprofit on a campaign to raise $100,000 for renovations to its Sudden Street home and to solidify its overarching mission.

Little House That Could

Despite only broad strokes for a long term vision, the Pajaro Valley Gallery composes itself for a major renovation

By Julia Chiapella

THE PAJARO VALLEY GALLERY in Watsonville is located in a simple but stately turn-of-the-20th-century bungalow. Designed by renowned architect William Weeks, it sits on Sudden Street next to the YMCA and, for the last eight years, has been Watsonville's only consistent, volunteer-supported gallery.

That's the good news. The flip side is that the Pajaro Valley Gallery, operated by the Pajaro Valley Arts Council (PVAC), has lacked a sense of professionalism, both in operation and appearance. It's an allegation supported by gallery staff. "We don't dispute the lack of professionalism," says organization manager Carol Trengove. "That's one of the major reasons that the board wanted to look at our long-range plans."

The development of those plans began when Jim and Marjorie Peixoto, a local farming family, bought the Sudden Street house two years ago and donated it to the city as a park site. The Peixotos made the donation with the stipulations that handball courts be built at the rear of the property and every effort be made to keep the Pajaro Valley Gallery in the building. Trengove said the handball courts went in right away. In fact, the courts are the only regulation tournament courts in California. International tournaments are already being planned.

Once the city gained ownership of the building, the gallery negotiated a long-term lease in exchange for a building renovation. A Packard Foundation grant helped with a new roof, and another from the Cultural Facilities Foundation in San Francisco funded plans to renovate the kitchen and bathroom, repair the outside of the building and make the whole shebang accessible to people with disabilities. "Once that was done," says Trengove, "we started a capital campaign to raise funds for the rest of the renovations." Additional renovations include inside wall repair, a new lighting system and outside gardens.

So far, PVAC has raised $80,000 of its $100,000 goal set last July to cover these renovations. Disabled-access ramps were scheduled to begin construction at the beginning of June, but PVAC ran into a snag when, according to Trengove, the Watsonville Building Department claimed the proposed ramps weren't wide enough.

Rafael Adame, assistant community development/building official for Watsonville, says the architect had designed the ramps to meet residential requirements, not the commercial requirements needed at the gallery. Trengove was facing the possibility of having to have the property surveyed as well as acquiring an easement from the neighboring YMCA when Adame worked out a solution.

"I was trying to come up with some kinds of alternatives," says Adame. Those alternatives included building a chair lift, increasing the width of the ramp or designating the building as a historical site, which allows flexibility in dealing with building requirements. In the end, Weeks' stature as a local architectural treasure was the royal flush. Pajaro Valley Gallery was notified of the possibility and immediately applied for status as a historical site.

"The same requirements apply," says Adame of the historical designation. "You just have flexibility in meeting the disabled requirement so you don't take away from the quality of the historical structure." The question now, according to Adame, is whether the gallery can install a narrower-width ramp and still maintain the character of the building. Nevertheless, with the application in for historical designation, the permit has been issued, and Trengove says plans are underway to continue with the renovations.

HELPING THE GALLERY on its way to realizing these renovations is Pamela Mason, a fund development consultant and former executive director of the Mello Center in Watsonville. Mason is now working on a long-range plan for the gallery although she was initially hired to help with the capital campaign. "I've taken on a little more than that," she said. "Now I'm helping them develop more resources, both in-kind and earned. But you have to get a lot of things in place before you ask for that."

Mason has developed an outline for a long-range plan and asked board members to form committees and deal with various aspects of the organization. "We're trying to look at each aspect separately and then come up with a cohesive plan," she says. All this requires time and energy, and the PVAC's board of directors is stretched thin with only a handful contributing to the bulk of the work.

"It's a really small board," says Mason. "One of the issues that always comes up is we need to have more people on the board. But we need to be clear about where we're going before we bring on new people."

Mason thinks much of the problem has to do with some general attitudes. "We expect good service when we walk into any kind of retail outlet," she says. "There's a certain level of expectation. But, for some reason, when we walk into a nonprofit arts organization, we're not as willing to pay for it." The result, she says, is that the Pajaro Valley Gallery is always struggling to do the most basic things, like making sure the phones are answered.

Challenges aside, the small gallery, which has continued to mount exhibitions such as last fall's Political Art: For Public Consumption is comprised of enough devotees that it just might make it. The painting of interior walls is ongoing and a color consultant has been hired to look at architectural detail and "give us a paint job that says 'Here We Are,'" says Trengove. The little house on Sudden Street is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, an auspicious occasion for some much-needed improvements. With a party planned for sometime this fall to celebrate recent renovations, the Pajaro Valley Gallery will get a nod to the future and, down the line, maybe some of the professionalism it so desperately deserves.

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From the July 5-12, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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