By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
"Ten years ago, when I left Santa Ana, the Artists' Village wasn't about Juice it Up! and Subway and Starbucks," McKie laments. "It was about community and mom and pop and being a village."
McKie then asked Marrero for the unoccupied space next to it; according to McKie, the two sat down, McKie filled out the paperwork again, presented his financials and written proposal, and once again was turned down. McKie says another MJW representative told him they wanted anchor stores in the location—stores like the adjacent hipster beacon American Apparel.
At this point, McKie turned his attention away from serving coffee and thought about opening a gallery amid the other galleries in the Artists' Village. He would throw his own works—he's an amateur photographer—on the wall as well as pieces by artists in the Santora building or the lofts.
"I'd put up their business cards, so that people could walk by, see that we're open, drop in and, if they wanted to find out more about the artists, here's their business card! Here's their cell phone number! And you know what?" McKie drolly asks. "They're actually right across the street!"
The gallery, like the coffeehouse before it, wouldn't have signs announcing Metheds and who exactly was working within its walls. The sign would simply read MLii, an acronym for Metheds Life Improvement Institute.
He set his sights on an empty two-story studio with gorgeous hardwood floors next to Proof inside the Santora building. McKie knew the space had been available for months, so he called Rod Gonzales, the property manager for the building. McKie claims Gonzales was interested in his idea of an art studio, agreeing to meet right away with leasing papers. And again, it was when McKie explained that the people who were going to be working in the art studio were people in recovery that the conversation stopped.
McKie asked if AA, NA and CMA meetings could be held there; Gonzales said no, according to McKie. While McKie later found out that zoning laws wouldn't allow such meetings, he proposed to have the space to simply house a studio to give some employment assistance and opportunities to people in recovery.
McKie was in a rush to get things started before June 30, the end of his stenography business' fiscal year, but he didn't hear from Gonzales for a few days. When McKie finally did get ahold of him, he says, he was told his application wasn't going to work out because of the proposed place's proximity to Proof, a bar.
"That's like telling me I shouldn't go to AM/PM to buy my gas because they sell beer right there!" says McKie. "I could slip just by walking in? I don't know if he thought I was going to be carrying banners that alcohol is bad or what his reasoning was, but it was just a no."
It was then that McKie recognized the name of the company on Gonzales' business card: Caribou Industries, which is owned by Mike Harrah, the Harley-riding developer whose signature project is the still-unbuilt One Broadway Plaza, a 37-story office tower. At one point some 10 years back, McKie and Harrah were the only ones standing up in a very crowded room of opponents, wanting to get the Artists' Village started. So, McKie left Harrah a voice mail, hoping their shared goals in the past and his earnest intentions would strike a chord. McKie has yet to hear from Harrah.
Calls to Caribou Industries for this story were not returned.
"Mike and Gil's idea of the Artists' Village—I don't see anything good coming out of this. But I'm not going to let Mike Harrah hold me back. I'm not going to let Gil Marrero hold me back," McKie promises.
McKie notes that his stenography business—and his ex-partner—would have been the actual tenant.
"Not me myself," McKie explains, "but a company that is 16 years old and has proven itself. That's the company that's going to be leasing this building. I don't expect any property owner to say, 'Ed, I realize your nonprofit is, like, a month old and you're an ex-addict and that we should really trust you to sign a three-year lease.' I know that's not going to happen."
Even so, Star and McKie looked at seven properties over a period of four months, with each property's denial process taking up to three weeks at a time.
"We couldn't get a space in downtown Santa Ana because none of them wanted to deal with people in recovery," Star says about property owners.
"It was just a real punch in the stomach," McKie says now, "thinking I came home to my community and friends."
* * *
But while the current tenants at the Artists' Village are always receptive to the idea of new businesses coming to the area, some of them can also testify to how hard it is simply to beartists.
"Right now," says Andrea Harris, director of Grand Central Art Center, "it's just really, really tough for anybody to open a gallery here. It's a great and beautiful life to be around art and artists, but there isn't money in it. We're doing simple after-school programs for high-school kids, and we can't even get those approved. These kids have no criminal records or anything—I just can't imagine the struggles [McKie is] having."