YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Side Street Productions takes moves in stride

The nonprofit arts education group bounced from place to place until it got its own wheels.

January 17, 2009|Bob Pool

Jon Lapointe can't actually say that the relocation of his group's headquarters went off without a hitch.

A hitch is attached to the front of it, after all.

But the move itself was quick and painless for a change when the arts education organization called Side Street Projects set up shop on Pasadena's North Fair Oaks Avenue.

All Lapointe had to do was pull onto a vacant lot, unhook an antique 40-foot trailer from the truck that was pulling it and plug in a bank of solar panels. He was back in business.

After 15 years of bouncing around between borrowed storefronts and warehouse spaces, Lapointe and artists who work with Side Streets Projects decided to permanently go mobile.

With solar power, cellphones and satellite Internet service, the nonprofit group is off the grid and in public view as never before.

Its office is a Spartan trailer that was built in 1953. A second trailer, a 1949 Spartan, serves as a library and storage area. The solar panels are attached to a smaller utility trailer.

All three trailers are parked on an empty lot owned by the city of Pasadena that is earmarked for redevelopment later this year. Because Side Street Projects provides arts instruction in Pasadena schools, the city does not charge the group rent for the site, near a busy intersection.

It was the school program that provided the idea for a headquarters on wheels.

Side Street Projects uses a pair of old school buses as portable classrooms, traveling to scheduled wood shop class sessions at various campuses in Pasadena and Los Angeles. It serves about 1,500 children a year.

Since its creation in 1992, the organization has repeatedly had to move as donated office and work space disappeared or rents soared. Over the years it has been based in Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Pasadena.

When it faced a move last year from a Pasadena-owned arts center, Lapointe and his staff decided to take a cue from their woodworking buses and become mobile as well.

"We were down three months when we moved before. This time it took us only 90 minutes," he said.

The vintage Spartan trailers were picked for their coolness factor, according to Lapointe.

Built using World War II aircraft-factory techniques, the highly polished, sturdily constructed aluminum trailers are lightweight. Their rounded ends make them aerodynamic.

They were manufactured by a company owned by J. Paul Getty, which earns them an extra nod from those in the arts community, he said.

"These are one of the few trailers with two egresses, which is what you need for a business in California," Lapointe said.

A search turned up the first trailer owned by preservationists at Altadena's Funky Junk Farms. The second was found in a storage yard in Parker Dam, Calif. A grant from the Pasadena Community Foundation was used to buy them.

A donation from the Ahmanson Foundation paid for the $27,000 solar power system. Its 12 collector panels generate 2,400 watts of electricity that is stored in batteries. Because the system is mounted on a trailer, it did not qualify for a solar energy rebate.

"With changes in the economy affecting nonprofits, being off the grid is a plus," said Jose Caballer, an Internet web designer and member of the nonprofit's board of directors.

"Costs are really high for office space. With rents going up, mobility is the answer to the problem."

The trailers have proved so efficient that Side Street Projects' directors have discussed eventually replacing the two 20-year-old woodworking buses with trailer-mounted wood shops.

The Spartans' original kitchens, furnaces and bathrooms have been removed and sold to trailer enthusiasts. A rented portable toilet is used at the Fair Oaks Avenue site.

The recent cold weather has given made the program's staff second thoughts about the decision to get rid of the propane heaters.

Dawn Platero, the group's bookkeeper, was shivering despite her coat as she worked on a laptop computer in the trailer headquarters.

"It gets a little chilly, but we don't want to plug in a portable heater," she said. "It would pull too much electricity."

Still, the trailers' mobility makes it all worthwhile, Platero said.

"Moving was difficult before. Now it's not."


Los Angeles Times Articles