The Office of Cultural Affairs for the City of San Jose, California recently commissioned me to create five birdhouse replicas of building/attractions that were once a part of Frontier Village, a small amusement park with a western theme that opened in 1961 and operated until it was closed and torn down in 1980. Frontier Village was a favorite attraction for local residents and the source of many fond childhood memories. The location of the amusement park is now a public park known as Edenvale Garden Park.
In May 2006, the San Jose Arts Commission approved the selection of artist Jon Rubin to create interpretive signage for the park that recognizes Edenvale Park as the location of Frontier Village. Jon’s initial ideas eventually lead to the birdhouse replica project described below:
"I have decided to focus on 5 spots in the current park that geographically correspond to buildings/amusements that once existed during the heyday of Frontier Village.
These Sites are:
The signature Train Station
The Main Entrance Log Tower Structures
The Mine Ride
The Old School House
The Buildings of Main Street
Each site will be marked by a pole that supports a birdhouse replica of a historic Frontier Village building/amusement that was located at that site. In addition, attached to each pole at eye level, will be a plaque that uses historical photos and text to place the building within the life of the entire amusement park. This plaque will also describe the species of birds most likely to occupy this new house. The birdhouses will sit atop poles at heights of between 10 to 12 feet and the interiors and hole sizes will be modified to accommodate and attract a variety of local bird species.
My interest is to activate a layer of history that is invisible to most of the people who use the current park, but still resides in all of those who frequented Frontier Village. In addition, the project also brings attention to an often-invisible avian ecosystem that is dependent on the parks current design. By turning Frontier Village landmark structures into functioning birdhouses I am attempting to commemorate the past while pointing to it's current use as a complex natural ecosystem. The birds presence in these buildings give a life-force to the memory of their use, and metaphorically show how, conscious or not, we all live our lives admits the structures of the past.
The first birdhouse replica to be completed is the Main Entrance Log Tower structures known as "block houses".
Visitors to the Frontier Village park entered the park between these structures. The replica is constructed of over 280 individually-cut poplar and pine wood pieces. The size of the interior dwelling compartments and entryway openings are designed to attract the White-breasted Nuthatch and other native wild birds that prefer these particular dimensions for their homes.
The second replica completed is the Old School House.
The Old School House was a museum with exhibits depicting what an old school house looked like. The replica is constructed of poplar and pine woods and contains four dwelling compartments designed to attract House or Bewick's Wrens.
The Main Street birdhouses replicate three well-known Frontier Village Main Street buildings...the Trading Post, the General Store and a third un-named building. These replicas are constructed entirely of poplar wood and contain four interior dwelling compartments designed to attract Western Bluebirds.
The Train Station birdhouse replica was completed September 9, 2007 and is constructed entirely of poplar woods. Due to its intricate design, construction of this replica required more than 300 hours of tedious work to complete. The center clock tower contains the birdhouse dwelling which is designed to attract the Western Blue Bird, a common inhabitant of Edenvale Park in San Jose.
The Lost Mine Ride is the fifth and final birdhouse replica for the Frontier Village/Edenvale Park project. It was completed on October 3, 2007. Since there were very few photos of the original Mine Ride structure, this replica presented some unique design challenges. The mountain-like structure was constructed around a 4" x 4" diameter interior dwelling box using wood forms covered by a wire mesh. The mesh was then covered with a special water-based wood putty to form the contours and texture needed. The dwelling diminsions are designed to attract the Chestnut-breasted Chickadee, another common inhabitant of Edenvale Park ecosystem.
For the past several years, fans of Frontier Village have gathered for a picnic at Edenvale Garden Park to commemorate the old park and reminisce about the days when Frontier Village was a thriving local attraction. All five birdhouse replicas were installed in Edenvale Park in April 2008.
If you would like to learn more about the Frontier Village Amusement Park and its history, go to "Frontier Village Remembered" at www.frontiervillage.net