There's an open lot on the west side of the 700 block of 16th Street in downtown San Diego. It’s a part of Maker’s Quarter called SILO, which hosts events and shows. For about 15 years, though, starting in the early 1990s, a two-story, dilapidated building that stood there pulsated as a vibrant artist loft that housed a handful of artists who, along with a constellation of some of the city’s most creative people, organized exhibits, performances, dinner parties and all-night drunken salsa music revelries.
The loft and everything that happened inside it was known by the number on the door: 740. Luis Stand, the Colombian-born, New York City-trained artist at the center of the 740 complex, died of complications from liver disease on August 30 at his home in Spring Valley. He was 66-years-old.
I met Luis in November 1993. I’d organized a poetry reading three blocks up the street at Café Chabalaba on 10th Avenue and C Street. The coffee house was another bright light in the downtown art scene. It hosted bands with big amps and loud guitars played by teenage fingers. A Stevie Ray Vaughn mural covered the entire C Street side of the storefront. At one particular poetry reading, in strolled two trench coat wearing, beret-topped figures: Luis Stand and James Watts. Little did I know, less than a year after graduating UC San Diego with a BA, that Stand would become the provost to my informal MFA at the school of 740 16th Street.
With an art degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City about 13 years before, Stand rode the booming New York art market. He befriended Keith Haring at the school and, through Haring, became friends with graffiti artists Futura2000 and Kenny Scharf. That’s around the time that the art market tanked. So in 1990 he moved to San Diego to enroll in the MFA program at UCSD.
“He was not from around here,” said painter and sculptor James Watts. “He was larger than life at the moment I met him. He was from New York, Colombia, and he had all the stories, and then he was an artist getting his masters at UCSD.”
Stand was the mentor the National City-raised Watts was looking for.
Watts moved into 740 in 1991 when he answered a classified ad that read “artist loft, $300/mo.” Stand moved in two years later. The painter and sculptor Mario Lopez moved in around that time, as well as Cristina Rivera, the owner of Chabalaba. Brazilian-New York painter Augusto Sandroni, a friend of Watts, was an important part of 740, as was theater director Juan Pazos and the members of the group I cofounded, the Taco Shop Poets.
Downtown was crawling with artists and independent spaces back then. Sushi performance gallery had been around since 1980. Installation Gallery took residence in the basement of an old church nearby. The Museum of Contemporary Art dove into the downtown mix when it opened up a space near the old central library. The artist collective Border Arts Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo had been active out of the Centro Cultural de la Raza since 1984 and was showing nationally. The first inSite exhibits of 1992, 1994, and 1997 put San Diego and Tijuana on the international art map.
The old Carnation milk bottling plant that was partially razed for the Petco Park development housed several artists and groups. The most active was the El Campo Ruse performance space, which held events opposing the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego.
But what really set 740 apart was the collaborative nature of living together, talking about art, seeing each other’s work daily and opening up the space to others. Luis Stand set the tone.
“We made something, and he helped us define it. He helped us find the words and definitions to what we were making. We were just making stuff,” Watts said.
The art and performances at 740 were driven by the collective ideas rather than the ability to sell the art or make a profit from entry fees for performances.
740’s first collaborative show in 1994 was called A Night of Unspeakable Acts, and was a seven-part monster that included dance, bands, performances and a spoken-word performance by yours truly. The art was by Lopez, Martinez, Sandroni, Stand and Watts.
“It was a unique moment,” said Museum of Contemporary Art-San Diego CEO Hugh Davies. “Now we have Bread and Salt which is near Chicano Park, and there are a number of pop up galleries and galleries that are there. There are some studio buildings, but my sense is that that it’s not wholesale collaborations of artists living and working together, and having a very strong aesthetic and political point of view. I think that 740 and other enclaves of that nature really accelerated the quality and the pace of the art that was being made because there was instant feedback.”
I grew up in Tijuana and San Diego, the product—for better and for worse—of both cities’ public institutions. Some of my poetry—from when I was with the 740 crew and organizing readings with the Taco Shop Poets—attempted to make sense of the wholesale changes I saw from the San Diego of the ’70s to the San Diego of the ’90s. Basically, seeing the last vestiges of downtown glamour in the Christmas window of the Walker Scott Company on Broadway to that building’s decay—along with other parts of downtown—to its recent gentrification.
That work prompted me to organize a reading in 2013 on 16th Street with some of the former Taco Shop Poets and Watts, to remember 740, El Campo Ruse, Café Chabalaba and all the artists, writers and patrons who passed through the doors.
“You remember in order to inspire,” former Taco Shop Poet Tomas Riley said, as he was looking at the empty lot that used to be El Campo Ruse. He went on to say that 16th Street’s collaborative environment and DIY mentality was essential to his artistic development. Riley is now the executive director of CounterPulse, a 31-year-old arts organization in San Francisco that organized a $6.3 million capital campaign to move into a renovated venue.
“I don’t see impossibility in any scenario,” Riley said. “Some people might have looked at the project and said, ‘That’s impossible. How are you going to turn a former porn house into an arts venue, and I said, ‘We did it at 740.’”
In order to remember and inspire current San Diego artists and writers, former Taco Shop Poet Adrian Arancibia is working with the artists involved with 740 to collect as much documentation of the visual arts created there and the performances.
A memorial for Stand will be held next month.