San Jose art pavilion only opened once

A grand art installation in San Jose’s SoFA district was supposed to stimulate economic growth and revitalize the downtown—but it’s unclear if it will ever do so.

The curvaceous, fiberglass art installation and event center known as the Serpentine Pavilion was completed in late 2021, with plans to stay for eight months. It’s been a year, and the pavilion has only opened once in August during the Cinequest Film and Creativity Festival. Soon the installation may move to make way for a two-tower, 20-story office complex approved in early October. But the project is still in the planning stages.

Proponents hoped the Serpentine Pavilion would activate the SoFA district through hundreds of free programs for the public—art shows, speaker series and other performances—acting as the focal point of the downtown block. During the day, the pavilion would exhibit art, architectural models and other content meant to highlight future development coming to San Jose. On select evenings and weekends, other events would celebrate San Jose’s arts, food and design culture.

Gary Dillabough, co-founder of Urban Community, said the pavilion has not opened because of a combination of COVID-19, the elections, a lack of conventions and now, the weather.

The land under the Serpentine Pavilion is owned by Canada-based developer Westbank Corp. and Urban Community—a group of venture capitalists that seeks to create more interactive and lively environments in downtown San Jose. Urban Community has a handful of projects around San Jose, including the renovation of the Bank of Italy building on First Street and a movie theater being converted into mixed-use retail and office space.

“We want to find time to open when there will be some normalcy and consistency,” Dillabough told San José Spotlight. “We are working on this now.”

The eye-catching pavilion at 345 South 2nd St. is made up of about 1,800 fiberglass frames stacked and arranged to form a cave-like curving passageway. The design, created by world-famous architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group, landed in San Jose last year after traveling from London and Toronto.

The Serpentine Pavilion is made of about 1,800 fiberglass frames. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Although the pavilion and land is privately owned, more than 300 public events were planned in collaboration with the city. This included weekly movie nights, artist lectures, fashion shows and other artistic events, city documents show. Yet, none came to fruition.

Elisabeth Handler, spokesperson for the city’s office of economic development, told San José Spotlight because the pavilion is privately run, the city cannot dictate its operations.

“The city did not pay for any part of this project. It is private property and is being developed privately,” Handler said. “The city has no say about whether it is open to the public, other than the times that public events are being hosted there.”

Councilmember Raul Peralez, who represents downtown, is optimistic that the Serpentine Pavilion will eventually open, despite the yearlong delay.

“Westbank (and Urban Community) made a significant investment of over $1 million to install the Serpentine Pavilion, so I would definitely say it’s going to be activated,” Peralez told San José Spotlight.

He said opening the site will be beneficial for Westbank because they can create a more vibrant area, which enables them to become a familiar partner on the block. It is a technique Westbank has utilized in other areas they have developed, Peralez said.

“Once it is open, I do expect it to have a fair amount of activity,” Peralez said. “The SoFA district is a great place to do this.”

Dillabough hopes to open the pavilion in the spring with several events lined up. However, the programming could be cut short if the developer starts work early.

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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