Red Brick Dreams

After 32 Years, Solstice Has a Home

by D.J. Palladino

Careful what you wish for, people say. But this year Summer Solstice is not heeding that advice, because they have finally been granted a wish that seemed impossible for three long decades: They now have a permanent workshop on the site of the former Community Environmental Council recycling center at 631 Garden Street. They could hardly be happier. Though few active Solstice people hung around the Park Theater in the early 1970s, or happened to be slouching down State Street the day 32 years ago when the late Michael Gonzales’s birthday spawned a mime- and drum-crazed festival that now almost doubles our population on one day, as it will this Saturday, June 24, at high noon. Most don’t even remember the wacky early headquarters, like the railroad roundhouse where the DoubleTree stands today. (Many who were there don’t remember much either.) Nonetheless, most are more than happy with a first home for Solstice after all these years. It’s a neat coincidence that this year’s theme is Dream, as in coming true.

“The new space is great,” said Anne Cheverfils, who kinda believes she was at the first parade. She was visiting from Ojai and wondering what the noisy people in mime costume wanted on State Street that day. Cheverfils — busy shaving Styrofoam into the graceful dragon’s head of the 40-foot Viking ship called “Corporate Raiders of the Lost Ark” that she and her cohorts will sail up State — loves the new space, and she loves the luxurious amount of time a permanent residence allows. “Though it’s funny because sometimes it seems like, ‘Ahh! There’s 14 days left,’” she laughed, “and other times it’s, ‘Yikes, only 14 days.’” Cheverfils, a librarian and a freelance artist who loves the democratic approach to art here, said, “It’s all about having an inner vision and making the outer world match that vision.” And that can take a lot of space.

Len Ramirez, on the other hand, only dates back four parades, though he was born in S.B. in 1927 and remembers the new Solstice building when it was the city’s carpool. The neighborhood was also famed for a public well under a tree house where young Ramirez sat with his cousins and watched the Dodgers farm team games played right there where the city buildings are now, across the street. Ramirez, long retired, built Fiesta floats for a couple years, too. Today he’s working on a rocking-horse whale that will buck up the street carrying a mermaid niece of his. “This is a much better place than any of the other workshops I’ve seen,” he said.

So concurred Pali X, the artist responsible for the big fabric finale to the annual (nicely demented) extravaganza. “I liked the GTE warehouse in 1997,” said the connoisseur, who has experienced 16 parades now and is always the first to show up for workshop. He likes a permanent home because it’s open early. And there are sheltered spots. “My enemy is the wind blowing dust,” said Pali, holding up a piece of his “Dreamfantasea” giant anemone.

Hathor Hammett has been in the parade or behind the scenes for two decades. The self-styled political activist and gardener has a smaller-scaled dream. “I’m going to be Fox News,” she said, holding up a startlingly real fox mask. “I love this spot; this is the best yet,” she said, adding, “By the way, I am not fair or balanced.”

Perhaps Claudia Bratton, the director now for the last seven years, is the happiest camper. It’s not exactly perfect, she admits, and there are little political hurdles still to be leaped, though she says the city staff has been heroic in helping with the new digs. “This is going to be an excellent year for us,” she promised, noting that Solstice recently paid off a large bank loan, and that they are planning a pre- and post-parade party at Alameda Park with entertainment arranged by jazz bassist Randy Tico.

She doesn’t miss the annual search for rental property. She wants to spread the joy — Boxtales and Lit Moon Theatre already have plans for sharing this big brick home. The parade has been dedicated to the memory of John Burnetti, Michael Gonzales’s partner, who died last year. So there are wistful moments, and nobody’s getting younger. But the future looks bright, younger people are coming out for it, and it’s almost Saturday. Throw caution to the wind. “We’re here now,” said Bratton. “Let’s celebrate.”

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