Mendocino Art Center

The Mendocino Art Center

Bill Zacha at a Mendocino Art Center Fair (1966).
Bill Zacha at a Mendocino Art Center Fair (1966).

In 1959, in collaboration with his wife and lifelong partner Jennie, and with help from many friends, and not least, Saint Francis, Bill Zacha created the Mendocino Art Center from a unique combination of dreams, leadership, and very hard work. In 2009 the Mendocino Art Center celebrated its 50th anniversary.

For over fifty years Bill Zacha’s Mendocino Art Center has been the creative heart of California’s North Coast.

Looking at the Art Center today, who could imagine the burned out buildings and neglected property as it looked when Zacha first saw it?

Here’s how it began.

With experience running the art program at the Presidio in San Francisco, and a brand new teaching credential under his belt, Bill Zacha got a job teaching art at Mendocino High School. That job allowed him to buy the Albert Brown House (just $50 down), and move his family to Mendocino.

Lucia Zacha, with her father, in the front yard of the Albert Brown House (1959).
Bill Zacha with his daughter Lucia, in the front yard of the Albert Brown House on Little Lake Street in Mendocino (1959).

Soon the job at the high school included adult art classes that were such a success, “Zacha decided to purchase land for an art school, and chose the Preston property, which contained the fire-destroyed ruins of Mendocino’s most beautiful mansion (used as a set in East of Eden in 1954).

Providentially, Zacha went to a bingo game one Saturday night and heard two men say they were buying that land on Monday, to start a trailer park. On Sunday morning Bill and Jennie drove toward Fort Braff to see the property’s owner, Pete Paoli, at his Highway Market. “We walked in and I said, ‘Pete, I’ve decided to buy the place.’ All Pete said was, ‘Good.” The price was $5500. I asked, ‘How much do you need?’ He said, ‘Well, $50 would do it.’ I gave him a check for $50 and he wrote it up on a grocery ticket. We still have the grocery ticket.”

Original receipt for the $50 downpayment on Pete Paoli's property (2/22/1959).
Original receipt for the $50 downpayment on Pete Paoli’s property (2/22/1959).

So what do you do with burned-out or collapsing structures and a lot of rubble if you have little money? For one, the Zachas had many friends, old and new, who volunteered for work parties to help make the project a success; secondly, Zacha had hutzpah and he made things happen, so much so that by September 6, 1959, only eight months later, the property was ready for the thousand people who attended the Mendocino Art Center opening and art fair “Art in Action.” – Excerpt from “Thoughts on the Mendocino Art Center’s 50th Anniversary” by historian Bruce Levene, from Mendocino Art Center: A 50 Year Retrospective, Levene’s lavishly illustrated chronicle celebrating Bill Zacha’s most influential and enduring creation.

Mendocino Art Center: A 50 Year Retrospective. Compiled and edited by Bruce Levene. Cover design by Marge Stewart. Published by Pacific Transcriptions, Mendocino  (2009). For now, Mendocino Art Center: A 50 Year Retrospective is available at the Mendocino Art Center Gallery Gift Shop, and at Gallery Bookshop on the corner of Main Street & Kasten in Mendocino. Gallery Bookshop offers shipping. For details, email info@gallerybookshop.com, or call 707-937-2665.

For over fifty years William Zacha's Mendocino Art Center has been the creative heart of California's North Coast. The lavishly illustrated Mendocino Art Center: A 50 Year Retrospective, compiled and edited by historian Bruce Levene, chronicles and celebrates Zacha's most influential and enduring creation. $24.95 plus tax at the Mendocino Art Center Gallery Gift Shop, 45200 Little Lake Street at Kasten Street Mendocino, California. Open daily, 10 am to 5 pm. 707-937-5818 x14.
Mendocino Art Center: A 50 Year Retrospective (2009)

Former Mendocino Art Center Director Peggy Templar writes: “The book is a time capsule, and a wonderful history of the Mendocino Art Center, and of the town of Mendocino as it developed as a result of the Art Center. It is also a fitting tribute to the many, many people who have labored over the years to establish and support this unique center for the arts. One thing that is striking and, truly, almost overwhelming to consider, is the tremendous range and diversity of activities that have characterized the Mendocino Art Center from day one. There was from the onset an exuberant willingness to embrace “the arts” in all their many manifestations, from totem pole carving to science fiction writing to guitar playing and, oh yes, painting, ceramics and weaving. And, normally, these activities were all going on simultaneously, and still do to this day.”

Jennie Zacha’s Hot Wild Blackberry Sundaes
The Legacy of William Zacha.
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