When Alan Baker, curator of the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, came on board about 10 years ago, he had trouble finding the public entrance.
There wasn’t much more than the Tiki hut you came upon as you walked into the zoo, finally finding a ticket booth and a lockable gate “in the back,” Baker said.
Almost 20 years ago, Susan Beatie’s life-sized bronze tiger and a manmade waterfall kicked off improvements to the zoo entrance.
The city constructed a new entry building and gift shop, but even then, there wasn’t money left to erect a sign identifying where you actually enter the zoo.
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Through fundraising efforts spearheaded by Chuck Ward and the Military Order of World Wars and a committee he liked to refer to as the “Monument Men,” a bronze statue of zoo founder Chuck Paddock was completed a little more than a year ago by Atascadero artist Mark Greenaway. But still no zoo sign.
So Greenaway, working with Ward and community fundraising, went about creating a new sign. Early on, they involved another artist, Burt Johnson.
Johnson owns and operates a welding shop in which he has created structural steel projects for Central Coast builders, including some very fine art, especially in the many gates he has created for single-family homes.
Finally, this past Thursday the efforts of these two artists, Johnson and Greenaway, came to fruition as a new sign was unveiled only 20 feet away from Chuck’s bronze. Both artists were fully involved in this newest piece of public art.
Johnson’s metal work, which involved a lot of computer-driven cutting through steel, eventually became a palate for Greenaway.
What is unique is that approximately 20 species of animals were painted into the green leaves of the tree atop the sign. In fact, the zoo is going to hold a contest to see who can find the most animals. I noticed that every time I looked up at the sign I spotted a new critter.
The sign is a work of art and although erected at a cost of close to $80,000, not a dime of taxpayer funds were used.
It came about the same way other Atascadero improvements have: by volunteers doing the heavy lifting and writing checks.
That’s how we got the Centennial Bandstand, Paloma Creek Park, Memorial Stadium at the high school, the ball fields at the lake and along Traffic Way, the equestrian arena next door to Paloma Park and a lot more.
That same community spirit here is what keeps the homeless shelter open and Loaves & Fishes in business.