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Hollister
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December 9, 2022

Swank Farms’ Fresh Billboard Gets Attention

Hollister
– There’s a fresh sight on San Felipe Road.
Hollister – There’s a fresh sight on San Felipe Road.

Swank Farms recently erected a 16-by-16-foot sign depicting Dick and Bonnie Swank holding a large basket of fruits and pointing down the road to their new produce stand. Co-owner Bonnie Swank said the sign isn’t just a giant advertisement – it’s a piece of art.

But that distinction isn’t just a matter of taste. The sign initially ran afoul of the city’s rules limiting the size of commercial signs, Swank said.

“(Kim) was halfway done with the sign when we found out,” she said. “We were really worried. We could see that thing just sitting in our driveway.”

But Swank said the Hollister Planning Commission eventually decided that the sign could be considered a mural, rather than a simple piece of advertising, exempting it from the size restrictions.

A smaller sign meeting the city’s size restrictions has been built to contain the actual advertising text.

Community Services Director Bill Avera said the city’s ordinance limits commercial signs to a certain square footage depending on the property’s frontage. The formula and rules are overly-complicated, Avera said, which is why the planning department hopes to revise the ordinance soon.

The line between art and advertising can be thin, Avera acknowledged. The city also decided that the new painting outside Johnny’s Bar and Grill is both a mural and a sign, Avera said. The biker portraits are a mural, he said, while the name of the bar is a sign.

“We’ve got to use some discretion,” he said.

Planning Commissioner David Huboi recalled being impressed by the Swank mural’s beauty.

“It went beyond advertising,” he said. “It seemed like a good piece of art.”

The artist, Marina-based Dong Sun Kim, comes with an impressive pedigree. Kim assisted artist John Cerney with the famous plywood murals of farmworkers lining Highway 68 in Salinas that have been featured in The New York Times and other publications.

“We didn’t know if we’d be able to afford him,” Bonnie Swank said.

Luckily, Swank contacted the artist when he was starting to strike out on his own, and Kim accepted the project. The sign has been in the works for a year now, sitting in pieces in Kim’s studio while the Swanks work their way through Hollister’s planning and permitting process.

That process has taken a lot longer than expected, Bonnie Swank said. At first she expected to open the produce stand last summer, but it wasn’t up and running until June 15 of this year.

“It’s not as simple as I thought it’d be,” Swank said. “The people in the city have been good to us, but we really did think we’d be open before this.”

Swank is relieved to have the mural up and the stand open but said there’s still work to be done. Kim will deliver the other side of the sign in the coming weeks, and the Swanks still need to obtain the final permits to erect permanent structures. Until then, they’re selling produce out of a tent.

“Hopefully, we can get it up before the corn maze (in the fall),” Swank said.

Anthony Ha
A staff member edited this provided article.

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