Almanac

News - May 12, 2010

Tiles by 1960s-era kids to grace former schoolhouse, not new community hall

by Dave Boyce

The outside walls of the new community hall at the Portola Valley Town Center will not have decorative ceramic tiles placed upon them, which will allow the elegant, recycled, locally sourced, old-growth redwood siding to fade to a uniform color as it ages.

A majority on the town's Cultural Arts Committee had proposed that selected locations on the community hall's exterior be the new home for a set of tiles, made by Portola Valley school kids in the 1960s, that show local wildflowers and would mark the buildings with a bit of town history.

The tiles will go up, a unanimous Town Council agreed on April 28, but they will go to a place with children's history: the Historic Schoolhouse. Most of the tiles will be mounted on the schoolhouse exterior back wall facing the playground, but the playground fence will also have some, as will a lighted alcove above the water fountain at the nearby restrooms.

In discussing alternatives, the council came to a consensus that putting the tiles on the community hall, even as an experiment, would result in uneven and unsightly weathering if the tiles were ever removed.

There wasn't much objection to the council's view.

Cultural Arts Committee spokesman Steve Marra said that he wanted to avoid a decision based on whether the tiles were good or bad art. "My goal is for this to be a win-win situation," he said. "What the (council) is suggesting meets the needs of all the parties."

Marilyn Walter spoke up for the brown integrity of the three-building complex of community hall, library and Town Hall. "If you see one bit of color on one wall, it (disrupts) the whole integrity of the architecture," she told the council.

The complex has won awards for its environmental character, which includes the idea of it being subordinate to the surrounding land.

To be "respectful of the amount of time and money that went into the Town Center," the tiles should be on or near the Historic Schoolhouse, Councilwoman Ann Wengert said. "They're about children, they're about our heritage, they're about our history."

The town's Web site should have a page and map showing each tile and where it can be found, Councilwoman Maryann Derwin added.

Mayor Steve Toben addressed the committee before calling for a council vote. "This is really a win for you all," he said. "You found a very precious cultural artifact and now it's going to be displayed."

"The town will personalize these buildings," Councilman Ted Driscoll added. "I'm sure in 10 years, they're going to be very much ours."

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