Painting the Town - Page 4

When mosaic master Alfonso Pardiñas lit up the Bay Area with his colored glass and lively personality
Painting the Town
One of Pardiñas' installations for BART, at El Cerrito's del Norte station.
Painting the Town
Pardiñas was involved with the mosaics for these strange beasts at the entrance of the Park Central Apartments, a complex designed by architect Mogens Mogensen in Burlingame.
Painting the Town
Pardiñas executed several mosaic creations for Safeway, including this one in Berkeley.
Painting the Town
With sculptor Ruth Asawa, 1968.

The Cine Rex job proved life-changing. As Gutierrez recounts, an American woman of maybe 60, whom Gutierrez affectionately called "my monkey," took a shine to the lad who was all of 18 or 19—and took him to the Bay Area. Their mother did not approve.

It was 1943 or 1944, the United States was at war—and Alfonso served, with an eye to his future. "He wanted to be an American citizen," Gutierrez says. "Why not?"

After discharge, Alfonso changed his life again by learning the tile trade—and by dropping his father's last name, 'Gutierrez,' which is like 'Smith' in Mexico, Gutierrez says, in favor of his mother's more compelling 'Pardiñas.'

Gutierrez watched as Alfonso moved in the mid-1950s from simple residential tile and mosaic to more ambitious work. "He was trying to do something better," Gutierrez says.

Pardiñas imported his glass tiles (smalti) from Mexico and, as his jobs got bigger, the mosaics were put together in Mexico in partnership with Manuel Perdomo, whose family owned Mosaicos Venecianos.

Memo Morantes, Pardiñas' nephew and today a community leader on the Peninsula, put his uncle up in his home when he was installing a six-story mosaic mural of a tall tree ('Palo Alto') on what is today the Epiphany Hotel in Palo Alto. There, Pardiñas was wielding a trowel. "He was out there with the workers, just like the other workers," Morantes recalls.

Pardiñas also employed one or two people in his San Francisco studio, where smaller mosaics were put together, including wall pieces and tabletops. "You'd walk through the aisles of mosaics that were brought up from Mexico, and there would be mosaics in production," Ilka says.

Pardiñas, who had a daughter from an earlier relationship with an artist, met Cristina, a recent arrival from Germany, at a flamenco performance in North Beach. "He kept sending us drinks," Cristina recalls. They were married within a year.