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PUBLIC ART
Loma Prieta Earthquake Memorial, Watsonville, CA

 

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The Watsonville Earthquake Monument

Dedicated to Elida Ledesma Ortega, quake victim

Sponsored by the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau and Agri-Culture. Assistance provided by the Pajaro Valley Arts Council, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and Watsonville Parks and Recreation Department. Thanks to the many private donors who offset the costs of construction, to Lee Cozzens for conceptual renderings, to Florentin Anghelescu for consultation, and to Peter Nurske for researching the 2002 changes to the Monument and providing many of the following photos.

Located in front of Watsonville City Hall, the Earthquake Monument was unveiled on the 2 nd anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, October 17, 1991 as part of city-wide celebrations of the their recovery from the disaster. Watsonville was the closest town to the epicenter of the 7.1 magnitude quake and suffered the loss of many buildings and one life.

The Monument was a joint artistic effort by me and landscaper David Cohen of Waterstone Specialties of Santa Cruz. David designed a 15'x15'x7' high brick fountain with water, symbolizing revitalization, flowing through fissures in a brick structure and recirculating from a pool below. Many of the bricks David used to build this structure were salvaged from buildings damaged or destroyed in the quake and gathered together by Santa Cruz county youth. Given general themes suggested by David and the Watsonville community, I designed and painted the twelve tiled panels (125 square feet) set into this structure.

The people I depicted in the eight “Windows to ordinary life in Watsonville” are all inventions, save that of Elida Ledesma Ortega, (I painted her composing a shopping list.). The Monument is dedicated to Ortega, a former immigrant farm worker who later became a nurse's assistant and office clerk. She was the only Watsonville citizen to die in the quake. She was forty-four when she lost her life while saving her grandson from a collapsing bakery a few blocks from the future Monument.

Four fifteen foot long tiled panels surround the base of the Monument. I call them, “Alto!' “Shelter” “Renewal” and “Lost Treasures, New Journeys”.

“Alto!” depicts the hours directly following the quake. The sun and moon on either side of the panel symbolize a moment of great change, and of opposites coming together.

“Shelter” shows a rainy night after the quake in which volunteers bring supplies to a diverse group of people in a tent city such as that which sprung up in Watsonville's Callaghan Park. Their tablecloth is made up of patterns from the curtains of the windows in the upper panels of the structure.

In “Renewal”, Watsonville people of all ages and backgrounds are depicted rebuilding their town under the hopeful arc of a rainbow.

In “Lost treasures, New Journeys”, I memorialize five Watsonville buildings permanently damaged or destroyed in the quake, including Saint Patrick's Church, The Oddfellows building, the house on the corner of Jefferson and 5 th streets, the Ford Building and Ftoesser's block of buildings.

In 2002, the Watsonville City Council removed the upper portion of the Monument, apparently out of safety concerns (the fountain had been turned off when children were found to be playing in it). The city replaced the fountain portion of the monument with plantings and nearby park benches.

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