It’s no secret that the city of Turlock has a strong Latino community, and one local artist is on a mission to share the rich history through art.
On Wednesday, work officially began on a mural that will adorn the exterior north side wall of a building at 132 S. First St., the former home of Pablo’s Restaurant and the Mexican Kitchen. It just so happens that the man behind the project is Richard Gomez, the grandson of Pablo and family of the former Mexican Kitchen owners.
Gomez was raised in Turlock and is currently a faculty member at University of California, Merced. He has worked on numerous public art projects throughout California, including in Modesto, Livingston and Merced. This latest project in Turlock, titled “Chicano Downtown,” is extra special to him.
“This wall was something that I've been talking about for a while because I have some history here in this space and in this part of town and on this particular street,” Gomez said. “My grandfather used to own this building and this used to be Pablo’s Restaurant, who was my abuelo (grandfather). And then it was the Mexican Kitchen, of course, which is in the Gomez family as well. Those years have moved on. That was in the ‘40s, so we're talking about some really rich Turlock history here.”
While Gomez has been wanting to paint a mural on the building for years, the opportunity to turn his dream into a reality arose this year, when he was contacted by Lisa McDermott and the Carnegie Arts Center.
Chicano Downtown is part of the Carnegie Arts Center’s Turlock West Side Story Mural Project, which is funded with a grant from the Heartland Creative Corps. As part of the project, Gomez will create a second mural in the near future that will be on display in January 2024.
“Lisa McDermott knows that I was always on the lookout for a big mural project here in Turlock,” Gomez explained. “She found an opportunity to bring me in on a project that she wanted to do at the Carnegie. This grant came around and that provided the opportunity for me to do something that I wanted to do, and combine it with one of her projects, and we turned it into one large project.”
“The community and history of the West Side are essential to the fabric of Turlock’s past, present and future,” McDermott said. “We are fortunate to be able to look back on Turlock through the artist’s childhood experiences and to look forward through the perspectives of our youth participants in what will be two impressive murals.”
In terms of the mural on First Street, the design will include references to icons of Chicano culture and reflect the history of the neighborhood. Imagery from the Gomez family’s Mexican Kitchen restaurant will be featured on the mural, as well as other memories of the family, the neighborhood and the greater Chicano community.
“You’ve got to talk to the older generation. They definitely know,” Gomez said. “They have really fond memories of eating real famous food out of the Mexican Kitchen.
“I look at it as this kind of wonderful opportunity to pay homage to this area, to my family's history here and also homage and acknowledgement to Turlock, in general, and the greater Chicano Latino community that's here,” he continued. “We are here to pay homage to what once was. Acknowledging and highlighting some of the diversity here in Turlock and a group that perhaps gets overlooked.”
Gomez hopes that the mural, which will be completed in two weeks’ time, can serve as a “destination” in Turlock as the street continues to be revived. In recent years, small businesses like Taqueria La Primera, Café Rome and House of Random have moved to the street that currently has six vacant buildings.
Recently, the building where the mural is being painted on was sold and is in the process of getting remodeled. From what Gomez has heard, plans are to transform the building into a new restaurant and bar.
“I'm looking to create a landmark in Turlock, and that's what murals do. They create a space where people will be parking their cars to take pictures. People will be standing in front of this taking selfies. Bringing people together is the beauty.”
The mural will be unveiled on Sept. 16 as part of a free community celebration hosted by Taqueria La Primera. The event, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., will include a car show, live music from Valley Wolf, and non-profit vendor and activity booths for people of all ages. For additional details on the community celebration and classic car show, contact Sergio Gutierrez of Taqueria La Primera at (209) 420-0940. For more information on the Carnegie Arts Center, visit www.carnegieartsturlock.org.