Editor’s Note — This is the second article in a monthly series highlighting segments of the 18b Arts District and surrounding arts locations.
For about a decade, the buildings at 1025 S. First St., just north of The Arts Factory, were used only for storage. Last July, they opened as Art Square, a diverse collection of businesses.
Art Square was originally three buildings until it was redeveloped by a group partnership, including designer and gallery owner Brett Sperry. Sperry handled the design, architecture and interior spaces, and Trinity Haven Development was the general contractor.
“I had a lot of fun as a designer,” Sperry said. “You can see that in the paint colors, the structure of the walls and the way light flows in there. I was exploring how to make the place loose. I was trying to create downtown Bohemian chic.”
Sperry said the two buildings on the north and south of the property, which have been combined into one structure, were probably built in the 1950s, and the building in the middle, a 9,000-square-foot warehouse, was probably built in the 1970s. The buildings were used mostly for storage and light industrial work. Just before becoming primarily storage buildings, the since-closed Lady Luck Hotel-Casino had laundry facilities there for cleaning its linen.
“The south building, where Artifice and the Cockroach Theatre are now, has beautiful bow truss ceilings, brick walls, iron cross bars and other great features,” Sperry said. “I wanted to use as much of that as I could and leave that beautiful structure exposed.”
Artifice, a bar and performance space, was the first developed on the property and opened more than a year before the rest of the complex.
Art Square is two buildings joined by an open patio and garden space. The garden was an important design feature for Sperry.
“The garden in the middle creates a green space and an open area where artists can show their work, especially three-dimensional work,” Sperry said. “I wanted to create this wonderful little garden oasis, a nice place for people to hang out. It’s become a favorite spot for photographers.”
Richard Hooker ran his RTZ Gallery in Art Square for a year and recently closed it to pursue personal projects. He said was delighted with the space and the vibe of the complex.
“Brett almost curates the space, getting a variety of interesting tenants,” Hooker said.
Sperry said the tenancy isn’t that calculated.
‘We’re not exclusionary, but we’ve got an interesting mix,” Sperry said. “The goal of any kind of community like this is to strike a balance between professional and creative firms, along with retail galleries and things like that.”
One tenant that blurs that line is Freddie Ramon design gallery owner Crystal Solis. Her business is named for her father.
“I didn’t want it to be about me,” Solis said. “I’m an interior designer and artist, and the company is a collaborative of creative people. I commission artists to work on design projects.”
The company has been at Art Square for two months and plans its grand opening on Oct. 26. Solis hopes the company will be a nexus for interior designers and artists.
“I’m inviting design students, architects and people in the decor industry to use original art and local artists,” Solis said. “When I go to the market conventions, it’s all mass-produced art from China. There’s a lot of affordable local art out there that is really nice.”
Solis also represents 14 artists and plans to have exhibitions of their work at Freddie Ramon.
“My goal is to have six events a years, in addition to First Friday and Preview Thursday,” Solis said.
Sperry said the complex reached 100 percent occupancy in September, when the last two spaces were spoken for. The last piece of the puzzle was Sperry, when he decided to expand his Brett Wesley Gallery, down the street at 1112 Casino Center Blvd. He expanded it to Art Square and hopes to have the space open in time for First Friday on Oct. 4.
“I’m going to continue new shows at my main gallery,” Sperry said. “After those shows are over, I still have some of the work. I’m looking to put an eclectic remix of art in the new space.”
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.