The San Jose Art Pavilion has only been open once

A major art installation in San Jose’s SoFA district was supposed to spur economic growth and revitalize downtown, but it’s unclear if it ever will.

The curved fiberglass art installation and event center known as the Serpentine Pavilion was completed in late 2021 with plans to remain for eight months. It’s been a year, and the pavilion has only been open once in August during the Cinequest film and creativity festival. The facility may soon be moved to make way for a 20-story, two-tower office complex approved in early October. But the project is still in the planning stage.

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

Gary Dillabow, co-founder of Urban Community, said the pavilion is not open due to a combination of COVID-19, the election, the 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 seeking to create a more interactive and vibrant environment in downtown San Jose. Urban Community has several projects around San Jose, including a 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 a time to open when there is some normalcy and consistency,” Dillabow told the San José Spotlight. “We’re working on it right now.”

The attractive pavilion at 345 South 2nd St. is composed of around 1,800 fiberglass frames stacked and arranged to form a curved, cave-like passageway. The design, created by world-renowned architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group, landed in San Jose last year after traveling from London and Toronto.

The Serpentine Pavilion is made from around 1,800 fiberglass frames. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Although the pavilion and land are privately owned, more than 300 public events were planned in cooperation with the city. This included weekly film nights, artist lectures, fashion shows and other artistic events, a city document show. Yet neither materialized.

Elizabeth Handler, spokeswoman for the city’s economic development office, told the San José Spotlight because the pavilion is privately owned, the city cannot dictate its operations.

“The city has not paid for any part of this project. It’s privately owned and privately developed,” Handler said. “The city has no say in whether it’s open to the public, except when public events are held there.”

Council member Raul Peralez, who represents downtown, is optimistic that the Serpentine Pavilion will eventually open, despite the year-long delay.

“Westbank (and the city community) made a significant investment of over $1 million to install the Serpentine Pavilion, so I would definitely say it will be activated,” Perales told the San José Spotlight.

He said the opening of the site will benefit Westbank as they can create a more vibrant area that allows them to become a familiar partner on the block. It’s a technique Westbank has used in other areas they’ve developed, Peralez said.

“Once it’s open, I expect there to be quite a bit of activity,” Peralez said. “The SoFA neighborhood is a great place for that.”

Dillabough hopes to open the pavilion in the spring with several events lined up. However, programming can be shortened if the developer starts work earlier.

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

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