How well do you know your neighborhood? Have you ever wondered who built its first homes, who lived in them, what kind of people they were? Who planted (or cut down) its trees? Beginning on Sunday one local neighborhood, the Monterey Mesa, will be explored in an impressive five-part slide-lecture series sponsored by the Monterey Museum of Art. The lectures will be held at the historic La Mirada branch of the Museum, which was, as series organizer Julianne Burton-Carvajal points out, itself one of the first home sites in California and part of the Monterey Mesa neighborhood.

Burton-Carvajal, who teaches Latin American and Latino Studies at UC Santa Cruz, describes the neighborhood, which sits on a plateau across Fremont from Lake El Estero, as "a magnet for artists," and several of the lectures will focus in detail on this artistic heritage. The five lectures, all at 3pm on the first Sunday of every month, are designed to provide some intriguing and colorful background for the Museum''s self-guided walking tour, "Historic Homes and Secret Gardens of the Monterey Mesa," which will take place on Saturday, May 18th.

Burton-Carvajal decided to focus this set of lectures, called "The Monterey Renaissance," on the 1920s, a period she describes as brimming with talent and energy and an outpouring of community spirit. It seems appropriate that the subject of the first lecture is Jo Mora, one of Monterey''s most beloved artistic sons. Mora is known best for his drawings, paintings and sculptures, notably the Serra Sarcophagus at the Carmel Mission. In 1998 the Museum mounted a highly successful retrospective exhibit of Mora''s work. Less known about Mora is that he also designed homes and buildings, although he never considered himself an architect. This Sunday, the guest curator of the Museum''s earlier Mora exhibit, Peter Hiller of Carmel Valley''s All Saints School, will speak on the artist''s "known and unknown" architectural work and its connection to the Mesa neighborhood.

Future lecturers will examine the neighborhood and the period of the 1920s from various angles. In February, John Sanders, Public Affairs Officer at the Naval Postgraduate School, will speak on the Hotel Del Monte, present home of the NPS. Monterey''s modern infrastructure is essentially owed to this famous hotel, which in the 1920s was the glamorous destination of celebrated personalities from the worlds of entertainment, politics and sports. Sanders will talk about the "halcyon years" that began after the Hotel was rebuilt in 1924 as a grandiose monument to Spanish Revival architecture.

In March, CSUMB Art History professor Lila Staples will focus on the generations of artists associated with the Mesa. One such artist whose life and career will be looked at in detail is celebrated caricaturist Kate Carew, whose granddaughter, Christine Chambers, will join Stephen Hauk in April for a presentation on Carew''s life and career.

The house on Mesa Road in which Carew spent her last years was built in 1924 by the Monterey architect J.C. Anthony. Anthony''s restoration and transformation of historic Spanish homes in the Mesa neighborhood will be the subject of the fifth and final lecture, to be presented by Burton-Carvajal, who has immersed herself in the archival world of the Anthony family and is preparing a book on the subject. One aspect of his craft that impresses her is the way he chose to utilize traditional methods and materials from Monterey County, its culture and its environment, rather than impose a distant, out-of-town style. It was a grassroots attitude Anthony shared with Jo Mora, who once said about his sculptural work for the Monterey County Courthouse that he wished to draw "only from motifs of physical and historical Monterey County."

For Burton-Carvajal, the Mesa is not just a particularly interesting and beautiful neighborhood. It may also be, she ventures to claim, "the longest continuously inhabited neighborhood in California." On its soil lie the traces of Monterey''s earliest developed history, from Spanish Monterey to its years as a cattle ranch to the place where local fishermen dried their nets. At one time most of this neighborhood was owned by Scottish emigrant David Jacks. And for nearly a century, artists and civic-minded men and women have been drawn there for the views onto the Bay, and for its sense of history and community spirit. Once they get there, many never leave.

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