Something in the Air - Page 4

How the Eichlers of San Jose transformed an impromptu art-filled happening into the ambitious Fairglen Art Festival
Something in the Air
The information booth could easily be located in the crowd—just look for the sun umbrellas!
Something in the Air
Children were encouraged to display their artwork and play an active festival role.
Something in the Air
Even a donkey made the scene.
Something in the Air
Many garage bands entertained during the festivals, including this one, featuring Carol Sveilich's brother, Howard.
Something in the Air
Something in the Air
Top: Jim Thatcher creates a sandcastle in the family driveway. Above: His crowning achievement.

Parades of booths and tables featuring stained glass, clay and stone sculpture, ceramics, quilts, and jewelry lined the streets. Puppet shows for the younger children, square dancing for restless mothers, and judo demonstrations for active teenagers were featured.

One of our neighbors, Jim Thatcher, who, with his family, played an important role organizing the festival each year, even hauled in a truckload of beach sand, dumped it onto his driveway, and fabricated an intricate sandcastle masterpiece.

Thatcher would spend 12 hours each year building his four-foot driveway kingdoms, their castles featuring 16 doors, 67 windows, and 88 circular staircases. The intricate walls required frequent misting to prevent crumbling in the hot summer sun.

These sand creations were the Thatcher family's annual signature gift to the Fairglen Art Festival. One of them even appeared in a Sunset magazine article on how to build sandcastles. Each year when the festival ended, the castle sand was offered to neighborhood children to help refill backyard sandboxes.

The Fairglen Art Fair became a growing and impressive success—as many as 200 artists and 5,000 art-loving fans attended at its peak—but, after 30 years, it had grown a bit too big for its britches.

"The original goal was for neighbors to get to know neighbors," reflected Jim Thatcher in the Willow Glen Resident in 1996, "and for neighbors to show neighbors the artwork they were creating."

But by the 1990s, the neighborhood craftspeople, artists, and musicians were being edged out by outside vendors and commercial food booths. Large displays and rivers of massive crowds overflowed through the modest neighborhood fairways.

With such large numbers of people crammed into a small space, the Fairglen Art Festival sadly had become a logistical and liability nightmare. Despite its popularity, the festival closed down after the 1995 event following city-imposed restrictions and insurance liability concerns.

"When you invite 5,000 people to your street in the 1990s, it's not being neighborly," admitted Kim Jones, one of the fair organizers, a few months after the last festival. "It's creating a liability."

To fill the void, the Fairglen Eichler neighborhood slowly and carefully regrouped—and its homeowners returned to their roots a few years later, producing the first of a long series of lively yet manageable annual block parties. They celebrated their 17th year in September 2017.

Maintaining the community spirit established by the original art festival, the Fairglen Eichler block party today brings together like-minded Eichler enthusiasts who celebrate their tight-knit community. The get-together, attended by 250 locals each year, takes to the streets with music and dancing, cooking and dessert contests, outdoor movies for the kids, food and drink—and lots of getting neighborly.

But Fairglen was never just a neighborhood. Fifty-five years after that first Art in Our Alley, the Eichlers of Fairglen remain a state of mind and a creative hub of closeness and celebration. Their unfailing unification and sense of fun and exploration continue to this day.