Love for the east side of town knows no artistic bounds. As the David Nelson Pocket Park nears its grand opening Friday, it will also officially unveil a love letter to east Bakersfield, a mural featuring the work of 15 artists who dig their community.
It's been a busy two years for the triangle of land previously vacant at the corner of Brown and Monterey streets, where Monterey and Niles streets intersect. (For longtime residents, by the old Trans-Lex Travelin' Music store.) Much has been made of the 16,000-square-foot space by local nonprofit Children First, with the aid of a $100,000 grant from the Alfred and Virginia Harrell Foundation and matching $50,000 donation raised in the community.
In addition to fencing, the boldest additions have been the two murals, one in the park and the other on a cinder block wall of a Niles Street apartment complex owned by the Kern County Housing Authority. The latter, created by artist Joy Camel, is a wall of color, detailed with white outlines of botanicals. While that project was wrapping up, work ramped up on the other mural, an ambitious "East Bakersfield" design that covers the shipping container inside the park.
While Andrae Gonzales, Children First founder and Ward 2 Councilman, was searching for an artist who could oversee and create this other work, Camel was drawing a lot of attention in the community for her wall.
"The flower wall just across the way, that had generated a lot of attention and interest, including from Jennifer (Williams-Cordova)," Gonzales said.
He had seen Williams-Cordova's mural in the Be in Bakersfield project at Locale Farm to Table downtown and was impressed.
"I decided to reach out to her. It was just a general concept, 'East Bakersfield' in letters with images inside each. Jen from that point on took the reins."
The David Nelson Pocket Park is named for a fallen Bakersfield police officer who served the east Bakersfield community.
Williams-Cordova, knowing there was just over a month before the park's grand opening, worked quickly, reaching out to artists she expected would be willing to put in the time on short notice.
The design features the same color palette as Camel's wall but that's not the artists only contribution. While the search was on the group to complete the 15 letters, Camel suggested Taya Marroquin for the project.
"She gave me Taya’s contact information, and Taya brought her students into the project."
Those students from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County — Maggie, Belen, Rafaela and Mitzy — worked with Marroquin on the second E of the Bakersfield, creating a blooming rose.
In total, 18 artists helped bring the mural to life. Williams-Cordova depicted her grandmother, a former east-side resident, in her garden for the E of East and Marroquin painted a Ferris wheel.
Others involved either had a direct connection to the neighborhood or just a deep appreciation.
Amanda Klawitter, co-owner of House of Flowers, depicted in the A of East a backyard sunset inspired by her own east-side backyard view. She wrote of her design: "The colorful sunset and power lines represent the large towering possibilities of the world outside, with the familiar roots of their home (fence, hanging shoes and pigeons perched). Hoping it reminds us all to dream big, and remember where we came from."
Naomi Carrizales (F) and Skip Sanchez (S) were motivated by the people living in the community, Sanchez creating a "corner of heaven" for his mother-in-law, Nana Caroline Florez, and Carrizales for the many residents who "take pride in their families and homes."
Belinda Lopez Rickett (first E of Bakersfield) depicted a paletero man selling La Rosa bars as a tribute to proprietor Norma Diaz. She wrote: "She is the operator of La Rosa, a Bakersfield favorite and tradition for many years. Many Eastsiders know the sound of the jingling of the bells all year round from the La Rosa cart."
Jocelyn Dimaya (K) also embraced east-side iconography with signs for Andre's Drive Thru, Smith's Bakeries, Pyrenees French Bakery and the gone-but-not-forgotten Green Frog Market and Cindy's Restaurant.
The other artists are Morgan Townson, Alan Urquhart, Reema Hammad, Sara Drennan, Nanette Bonilla, Roy Hernandez and Mike Gamboa, who not only gave the B its pinata but also hand-painted the letter outlines in the style of an old Bakersfield postcard.
"It’s so hard to do lines like that on corrugated surface, and he did such a great job," Williams-Cordova said.
Even before the official opening, response has been great both on social media (look up hashtag #davidnelsonpocketpark on Instagram) and in the community.
"It's so awesome to see so many people come out," Gonzales said. "Neighbors stop and want to hang out in the park already. The grass isn't even laid out yet."
But everything will be ready for Friday's opening, which will feature a ribbon cutting and remarks from a family member of Nelson.
Juanita Contreras, part of the Williams neighborhood team working with other mothers to support the east side, will also address the crowd. The East Bakersfield High School band will perform and there will be pan dulce and La Rosa bars for those gathered.
Most of the artists are expected to attend as well to enjoy the official presentation.
But the work is not entirely done. This first phase completes the park and fencing but future plans, including movie nights, concerts and other gatherings, will require equipment and seating. Funds are being raised for these items as well as a permanent bathroom through events like tonight's Tiki-Ko fundraiser. Of course, community donations are also welcome, Gonzales said.
As a neighborhood readies to enjoy the beautiful public space made for them, Gonzales can't wait until Friday.
"This is what we we're hoping for — that the community would feel a sense of pride and ownership of this park. This is their facility to enjoy and to make use of. ... The east side is coming alive with this sense of revitalization."