by Bill Crossman, posted 17 April 2013
Fremonsters may wonder who’s the creator of the 8-foot wide parking strip, turned parkway and destination, near the city-bound METRO bus stop on N 36th Street at 1st Avenue NW.
With a mission to spread beauty, Juan Casanova is the single operative – a ‘Guerilla Gardener’ of Fremont. Casanova is a native of Cuba. Now a youthful 59 years old, he immigrated to the United States in 1980, settled in Seattle in 1982 and subsequently in Fremont in 2002. Casanova worked as head chef for Le Petit Café until it closed. And yes, it is his real name: Casanova, or “new house,” although it is a name more commonly associated with womanizing.
The wide, colorful parking strips filled with bright colors and textures, are a gift from Casanova, done on his terms. He determines which plants, accents, vessels, and decorations define this garden. Casanova’s muse has Cuban roots. As expected, still there’s a small amount of early morning bar reveler’s prankish vandalism, litter, and deposits by leashed dogs with irresponsible owners. Metro riders can enjoy the space with a public seat at the bus stop that seems to temper travelers’ speed on the curve.
‘Juan Style’ is “learning just respect,” Casanova explained. He left Cuba as a dissident, rebel and refugee, deported in exile with hundreds of others institutionalized by Castro. He landed in confinement in Miami, then moved to Wisconsin before calling Fremont home.
Casanova’s calling to guerilla gardening fulfills his mission to do something for the community, to leave a legacy, with a check on materialism. With “just necessities,” he mused, and kindness toward others, “life is full in Fremont.”
In Casanova’s sharing of his heart, in his distinct, Cuban dialect, he states passionately, “I live la pura vida, and love each day by day.” He is determined to, “live in the present,” and use money as a tool. Casanova bristles at other’s pursuits to own more, “things.”
When asked if he knows the neighbors in Fremont, Casanova stated, “I know everybody… Everybody.”
The Center Moves West
Ron Singh, owner of the 7-Eleven located on N 36th Street, said of Juan’s style, “[The gardens] are very nice.” Singh is joined by Nick Zouroudis, principal of Petapalooza Pet Supply, who said, ‘Juan Style,’ “is really cool,” and fits with the neighborhood spirit of creative expression. The eclectic gardens, goo-gahs and accoutrements of these gardens remind Zouroudis of Miami and Key West, in Florida, his birth state. Danielle Skredsvig, co-owner of 112 PrintWorks, said she, “loves Juan,” and the joy he brings to, “our neighborhood.”
Zouroudis exclaimed, “Plantings say somebody cares.” Nighttime Fremont revelers ‘get’ this aesthetic message, save for a few. Casanova is making a legacy to leave to Fremont. The minor vandalism doesn’t stunt his spirit.
Independently, the trio of merchants point to the westerly movement of the Center of the Universe ironically directed toward 1st Avenue NW and 36th Avenue N., and the need for landlord leadership in cleaning up the streets. The bottom line, for business owners Singh, Zouroudis, and Skredsvig, Casanova provides community beautification on a personal scale.
Altruistic Support of Artistic Expression
Nurturing and tending his green spot takes time, money and investment. The personal adventurer has built alliances for cooperation among the business owners. Donations come in – between a trickle and a roll – from neighbors, keeping with the Fremont ‘style’ of altruistic support of artistic expression. Fleur De Lis Garden Ornaments, Home Depot and Fred Meyer are primary sources for supplies.
Clean and sober for 11-years, Casanova loves the creativity and friendliness of Fremont. He plans to stay here, but he has a concern. “Where are the families?” he asked, “We need more families. There are no children.”
The sidewalk garden, filled with flowers, stone, and statues that strangely evolve to make a statement, looks different every day. Casanova confers this gardening gift on adjacent property owners, with or without their permission, the labor and intent given as a pure, altruistic gesture.
His effort begs a question, what if public spaces were created and maintained by Fremonsters?
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text & photos ©2013 Bill Crossman
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