With its unique collection of colorful outdoor art, the Second Street Sculpture Park in five years has helped bring some much-needed attention to the longtime empty space on the west side of Second Street in Pomona.
“Before, it was just a vacant lot and overrun with tumble weeds ... and then they set up an eclectic sculpture garden,” said Larry Egan, the executive director of the Downtown Pomona Owners Association. “It's a slow build, but it's working.”
The park at 538 W. Second Street is open the second Saturday of every month, except during the winter, and was created to promote outdoor and “outsider” art in the community, said Dan Romero, who helped developed the sculpture park with his wife, Dina.
“Everything you see is a very good example of outsider art,” Romero said during a recent day at the park while looking at the various sculptures that range from a gigantic horse to a three person seesaw. “If you're not part of academia, then you're considered an outsider in the art world, That's why it says outsider art as well as outside art, because these are things that are too big to put inside and they're mostly made by artists that would be considered folk artists or outside artists.”
While artists with degrees are also welcomed inside the park, Romero said referring to a sculpture of Al Gore in the front of the park created by a USC art students, he really tries to keep an eye out for those who are not college trained.
“It's open to these people who get the bug to make something,” Romero said.
Miguel Franceschi, 33, of Pomona, owns the nearby Foggy Windows Gallery and said Romero helped inspire him and his friends to keep creating by not shunning them like some other older artists.
“It's inspiring when people are willing to talk to you,” Franceschi said.
The gigantic landmark Watts Towers provided inspiration for the park. Located in the Watts District of Los Angeles, the iconic towers were created by Sabato Rodia, who died in 1965.
But the true catalyst was a competition hosted by the Millard Sheets Gallery at the Fairplex that Romero entered, which sought to find the best sculptured parade horse for the Los Angeles County Fair.
Participants, who were in teams, had access to a salvage yard on the west side of White Avenue in Pomona and could use whatever they wanted to make their sculptures. The only thing usable was metal so Romero said he taught everyone how to weld.
“We had 15 days to build this sculpture because it was to be built in front of (the fair) audience,” Romero said. “It was just a lot, a lot of fun.”
The name of the competition was the Trojan Horse, which coincided with a show inside the Millard Sheets Gallery about horses.
In the end, Romero's horse — a classic Trojan Horse people could actually step into that he created with his wife, children and friends — finished second place in the competition.
A year later in the fall of 2009, Romero's horse and the other horse sculptures created during in the Trojan Horse competition needed to be removed from the Fairplex where they were stored as the venue began gearing up for its next county fair.
“I did not know what to do with them,” Romero said. “They were too big to take home.”
And the sculpture park was born.
With permission by Perry Tollett, who co-owns the Glass House with Goldenvoice's Paul Tollett as well as the Fox Theater, Romero has been able to host the Second Street Sculpture Park event each month gaining quite a following.
Chris Toovey, president and co-founder of the dA center for the arts in Pomona, said the sculpture park adds diversity to the burgeoning west side of the downtown arts colony.
“It's an outside exhibition space as opposed to an inside exhibition space so it makes it fresh and a little more raw and new at that side,” Toovey said. “It's a great addition. It's got a kind of nice early, rustic, renegade appeal to it.”