Families walked together in ponchos, their jeans soaked to their knees. Puddles greeted guests on the seats of each ride. Earthworms sprawled on wet pavement. The local artists who planned on demonstrating their art outdoors, throughout the 75 acres of beautiful park property, had to find shelter so their work wouldn’t be destroyed.
Saturday’s windy rainstorm could have made a total washout of Resident’s Day – an annual perk for locals living in 95020 and 95021 zip codes. They are given free admission to Gilroy Gardens on its season-opening day.
But Gilroyans showed some true grit: more than 3,000 people braved the weather to enjoy a free day in the family friendly park full of horticulture-themed rides, botanical gardens, shops and cafes.
Linda Patterson, 59, a lifelong Gilroy resident, attended Resident’s Day with her grown children and young grandchildren. Patterson said she had kept her eye on the weather all week and as uninviting as the rain seemed that morning, they put on their boots and decided to head out.
“What the heck, sometimes you just have to go with it,” Patterson said, laughing. “And I’ll tell you I’m glad we came.”
This year’s Resident’s Day hosted a new event, “Art in the Park,” where Gilroy artists demonstrated their work for visiting children. While some artists didn’t show up because of the rain, those who did appeared to be extra passionate about showing the community what they do.
Patterson stood back and watched her 11-year-old granddaughter Ashleigh Perales get an impromptu oil pastel lesson from artist David Hofstad of Gilroy in the Monarch Gardens, an indoor greenhouse with tropical plants. Hofstad was working on a pastel painting of a cherry red classic car that he photographed on Monterey Street.
“You like art? What kind of art do you do?” Hofstad asked her as Ashleigh approached.
“Lots, but I have pastels but I don’t know how to use them yet,” Ashleigh said, dressed in a hot pink waterproof coat and matching rain boots.
Hofstad narrated his technique as he drew, before he handed the blending pastel to Ashleigh to try.
“This is so wonderful that he would let her do that,” said Ashleigh’s mother Leighan Perales, her eyes moistening. “She’s going to remember this.”
As Ashleigh drew blades of grass behind the car, her uncle, Brian James, 43, remembered the park before it was Gilroy Gardens – when it was Tree Haven, a tree nursery and recreation facility for grocery chain Nob Hill, owned by Michael Bonfante. James, a former Nob Hill employee, said he remembered coming to Tree Haven to go swimming and play tennis and barbecue in the summers of his teen years.
James, who hadn’t been to the park since it became Gilroy Gardens, said he remembers when Bonfante began building a train track around the park.
“We used to go running through the tunnels,” James said. “Now I’m here and I see kids having a lot of fun. It’s pretty neat to share it with the next generation.”
After the lesson, Hofstad gave Ashleigh a high-five.
Hofstad said that because art can be a lonesome activity, he enjoys working in front of people for events such as this.
“I’m kind of more gregarious,” he said. He also said that the fledgling Arts Alliance in Gilroy has helped bring the previously isolated art community together.
The park was in full operation despite the weather. Lines to rides were short, but indoor cafes seemed busy. The train still went around the park, and park staff stopped and waved to its passengers when it went by. Even though the number of people who showed up wasn’t terribly low, crowds were sparse, especially midday, during the most severe part of the storm.
Gilroy artist Scott Lance, 56, used a thin brush to paint individual hairs on an otter – the finishing touches on a mural-sized oil painting of seven spirited otters compiled from photographs he took while kayaking in Monterey Bay.
Unlike most of the other artists who worked in the enclosed Monarch Gardens, Lance painted under a large tent where a lunch buffet was served. The tent, Lance said, wasn’t completely protected from the elements, and earlier the wind nearly knocked over his easel.
“This is the coldest I’ve ever been while painting,” he said, rubbing his paint-smudged hands together. Otters get cold hands and are often found in nature rubbing their hands together or holding them up to expose them to the sun, Lance said.
“I’m painting these guys and thinking of them as my hands are freezing,” he said.
About 10 children surrounded Lance as he painted, showing them how he makes the lines of the otter’s hair thin and choppy, giving the effect of water beading off the otters.
“It’s all stroke by stroke,” he said to the group.
Lance said while he could have been painting in his heated, cozy office on Monterey Street, he volunteered at Art in the Park because he thinks it’s important for the community to see that art is a process, not just a finished product. He said that people don’t think of painting this way, but that in many cultures, it is a performance art, like singing and dancing.
The otter mural is part of a set of sea animal murals for a doctor’s office in Monterey. Because it’s a piece that he is getting paid for, Lance said bringing it out to the Gardens in the rain was a bold move.
“I guess I’m painting in the freezing cold because I thought I’d be able to touch people with art,” he said, laughing.
And as Lance said, a professional artist is just an amateur who doesn’t know when to stop.
This is the first art walk in the Gardens, thanks to the Public Art Committee, a seven-member board with the City of Gilroy.
“I think it went very well, considering the weather,” said Shirley Willard, chair of the Public Art Committee. Willard said the committee plans on doing more events like this is the future.
“People say, ‘we’re not Carmel,’ well I know we’re not, but Carmel didn’t wake up one day and have a community of hundreds of artists. You have got to start somewhere,” she said.
Aromas wood carver Barbara Scoles, 67, whittled a Santa Claus out of basswood as she spoke to the trickle of people who wandered into the Monarch Gardens.
“We’re all soaked, but this is a great chance for people to see that art is done by hand,” Scoles said.
There were no signs at the entrance of the Monarch Gardens to advertise Art in the Park, and unless someone was specifically looking for it, it could be easily passed up. But even highly visible attractions got less buzz than hoped for.
Judy Bozzo stood near the entrance to the park with a playhouse that is to be raffled this summer to raise money for art in the children’s section of Gilroy’s new library that is set to open April 28. A picnic tent created a dry spot with 1-foot margins around the playhouse.
Bozzo said that while the playhouse, a brightly painted wooden house built by Habitat for Humanity, has generated a lot of attention at other events, interest was pretty slow Saturday.
“I think all of our potential donations went to ponchos today,” Bozzo said.
By midafternoon, however, the bulk of the storm had passed and many people ventured out to enjoy the last few hours of the day.
“We waited for the rain to clear up,” said 36-year-old Maria Gomez, who lives five minutes from the park. Gomez stood near the entrance with her daughter, who was in a stroller. Her son had run off to ride the Ferris wheel, she said.
“The nice thing is that the Gardens is so close to us, if we get cold we can just go home,” she said.
Gomez said because her daughter turns 2 years old this year – old enough to enjoy many of the rides – she will consider buying a season pass to the Gardens. But even if she doesn’t, she will definitely partake in the three days during the summer when tickets are $10.
Near the exit, a Gilroy Gardens employee handed out tickets as guests left for another complimentary day in the park.
“We hope you can come back on a sunny day,” she said.
Hours: Thursday and Friday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Tickets: Season passes available for $34.99. Price goes up June 1.
Upcoming events: Each Friday in May is Natural Science Days, a “living laboratory,” where children perform science experiments, partake in scavenger hunts and more. Register ahead of time.
Location: 3050 Hecker Pass Highway, two miles west of Santa Teresa Boulevard.