The Blue Lot shows the ‘true essence’ of Santa Ana
When most people think of a parking lot, they don’t generally think “art gallery.”
But Ruben Salazar isn’t most people.
He’s spent the last five years transforming a parking lot on First Street in Santa Ana into an outdoor exhibition of murals from local artists. The pieces are anchored by important social justice messages, as the Blue Lot seeks to amplify the voices and stories of the unseen communities of Santa Ana.
The Blue Lot will not let you forget. It bares naked realities to all those who pass by, forcing them to reckon with the unjust death of a young woman, the violence suffered by the LGBTQ members of the Black community and the cultures of Santa Ana that have been pushed to the shadows by gentrification.
“Because of the traffic that is on that corner on that street, they see these images on the property,” Salazar said. “If we can spark the imagination and attention of our youth and of our community in general, and create change, that’s what we want to do.”
For decades, the Blue Lot was occupied by a Cadillac dealership and then became a magnet for graffiti artists. It got its name because a group of artists got the idea more than a decade ago to paint the lot blue so satellites could see it in space. There are still some traces of the blue paint on the ground.
When Salazar took an interest in the property, he realized he wanted to bring it in another direction.
“But when I came along, I was like, ‘OK, why don’t we change this?’" Salazar said.
Salazar, a well-known reggae musician and art lover, was born and raised in Santa Ana and envisions the Blue Lot as a cultural hub in the city.
In addition to the art, he’s held events at the Blue Lot, like the Gente Night Market, which showcases local entrepreneurs, artists and small businesses owned by people of color.
“My vision of the property is the Blue Lot to be the pillar of Downtown Santa Ana,” Salazar said. “If you want to get a taste of the culture, the art of Santa Ana, you make your way to the Blue Lot.
“We want to be able to cater to the community and for it to be the home for our local artists and our local entrepreneurs.”
Most recently, Salazar hosted an unveiling of a mural of Victoria Barrios, an 18-year-old who was gunned down in a drive-by shooting two years ago in Santa Ana. The mural is meant to encourage witnesses to come forward and to send a message about the city’s long history of gang violence. City officials, including Mayor Vicente Sarmiento, and law enforcement were in attendance at the event.
Last year, as the country rose up against police violence following the killing of George Floyd, the LGBTQ Center of Orange County approached Salazar with an idea for a mural on the Blue Lot that would serve as a unifying symbol for all Black people. Salazar was enthusiastic about the idea, and within a few days, a mural reading “All Black Lives Matter” was completed. The words are written in various colors signifying support for the LGBTQ members of the Black community.
Jackie Garcia, director of marketing and development at the LGBTQ Center, said the mural is a way for the LGBTQ community to feel seen and to raise awareness of the injustices they suffer. She noted that the Black and Brown trans community is subjected to hate crimes, and it’s important to know that there is a support system in the community that recognizes their pain.
“Ruben immediately jumped up to support this cause,” Garcia said. “He didn’t even bat an eye, he just immediately was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this’ ... There’s just genuine support for the cause and for the community, and I think that’s what the Blue Lot is all about.
“Ruben has a big heart and he knows the power of art and community. So he’s using that very impact, that power that that holds in the community, and he’s using it there in the Blue Lot.”
Ivan Marquez, a representative of the longstanding DJ crew Funk Freaks, said the Blue Lot is the “true essence” of Santa Ana. The largest mural at the Blue Lot was produced by the Funk Freaks.
“It’s touching on subjects and people that have been left out,” Marquez said of the art showcased at the Blue Lot. "... I really do feel like it’s a literal representation of the streets of Santa Ana compared to all the other art that’s out there, which looks really clean and whatnot, but it loses that essence to an extent.”
Marquez pointed out that the Blue Lot is just a few steps from Downtown Santa Ana, what he calls a symbol of gentrification. In contrast, the Blue Lot’s artwork shows the cold, hard, rich reality of Santa Ana. This is highlighted in the Funk Freaks’ mural, which pays homage to what it was like growing up in Santa Ana, a shared experience among the members of Funk Freaks, who were active gang members or graffiti members at some point in their lives.
The mural includes a paletero, who serves paletas, or popsicles. On the side of the paletero‘s cart are the words “La Cuatro.”
“Back in the day it wasn’t known as Downtown Santa Ana, we knew it as La Cuatro,” Marquez said. “We specifically made sure to put that on the side of the cart to say La Cuatro so people understand that before it was Downtown Santa Ana, it was La Cuatro. It was mostly undocumented immigrants and just Chicano culture. Everybody would go there and do their shopping.
“Due to gentrification now, it’s a whole completely different place compared to 20 or 30 years ago. We wanted to bring back that feel to it or at least drop knowledge on people that it was La Cuatro before it became known as Downtown Santa Ana.”
The mural also includes a woman selling flowers, pointing to the migrant mothers who work to support their families by any means necessary.
“At the end of the day we had to show respect to women and the mothers out here who are illegally here working to get by and give food to their children, making a living however they can,” Marquez said.
Considering the members of the Funk Freaks know all things funk, Marquez said they added a lowrider in the mural to show that Santa Ana is the capital of funk. He said you’re bound to hear somebody blasting funk out of their car if you’re outside in Santa Ana.
The mural also includes a Bristol Street sign and the iconic Santa Ana water tower.
“This is a well-known fact, people have always been cruising Bristol,” Marquez said. “This is what really is Santa Ana, and this is what really is Orange County, cruising Bristol. Every weekend it’s go to a house party, if nothing was cracking, go to Bristol for a couple hours, you’ll find something fun.
“That’s why we said we have to incorporate the Bristol street sign on top of the corner. And of course we had to put the Santa Ana water tower, which is for sure an iconic symbol of what is Santa Ana. Honestly, there’s so many people that have that tattooed on them.”
Salazar said he will continue developing the Blue Lot concept, bringing in more events and beautifying the property. He feels that his mission is to be a civil servant to his community.
For artists and residents like Marquez, the Blue Lot has already become fundamental to the city.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the last real part of Santa Ana that we’re holding onto,” Marquez said. “It’s just the fact that we finally really have somewhere to put our artwork and be represented correctly.”
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