Art is for everyone, and nobody believes that more strongly than James “Walkie” Ray and his brother, Michael Ray. As the partner affiliates of Sanderson J. Ray Development, the Rays have used the west-facing façade of their building on the 3400 block of East Coast Highway in Corona del Mar for public artworks for more than two decades.
“It’s always been an art wall,” Michael says of the block wall.
Longtime Orange County residents will recall the historic building was once a Snack Shop Restaurant and the catalyst for Far West Services, which became the parent restaurant company for not only Snack Shops, but Coco’s, Reuben’s and Reuben E. Lee’s.
“The Snack Shop had its own baked goods counter, so you could go in and buy pies and donuts and all that good stuff,” Michael says. “It was the bakery for the entire Coco’s chain until it wasn’t big enough to service all of them.”
The space changed over the years and a seascape mural commissioned by the gas station next door to the property went up on the blank block wall. However, when Sanderson J. Ray Development began a complete renovation of the building, the coastal artwork on the west wall didn’t flatter the new modern feel of the property.
“We wanted to come up with some treatment of the wall that would distinguish it and would be complementary,” says Walkie.
Greg Ashton, a local artist and architect, was brought on to the project as a design architect. The Rays eventually tasked Ashton with the assignment of developing a sophisticated art installation that would complement the building’s new exterior identity.
“I had done a couple of smaller jobs for them, and we had worked together in the past,” Ashton says. “They had a couple different ideas (for the wall), but they were mostly placeholders. Then, Walkie asked me to take a pass on it, and I started working out a proposal for what it looks like today.”
Today, the west-facing façade is dressed in four white monochromatic patterned panels, completed in the same white plaster as the rest of the building’s exterior.
“We came up with the solution of using four or five inches of foam so that we didn’t violate building codes,” Walkie says, “and it is in a pattern that represents an appropriate and interesting collaboration.”
Ashton says the art installation is a reflection of the building’s unique use of light and shadow.
“By creating these columns of graphics and then layering and off-setting them, we started to create a more complex visual pattern, which ultimately translated into a low level relief,” Ashton says. “And, with the southwestern exposure, it kind of casts shadows, which creates a lot of depth.”
Enriching Orange County’s art culture has always been a personal mission for the Rays. Michael serves on the board for the Orange County Museum of Art and Walkie and his wife Janet are benefactors of the Discovery Cube, the Orange County School of the Arts and the Orange County Great Park.
It isn’t unusual for the Rays to approach their real estate development projects as blank canvases for public art. In 2012, they commissioned artist Tony Sheets to design an original work on the south wall of Newport Beach’s Corinthian Way retail center, which resulted in the properties beloved three-dimensional evolution of flight installation.
“We tend to try to incorporate art as much as we can in our development business,” Michael says. “It’s what my brother and I want to project as a family.”
And, they are happy to incorporate art into Corona del Mar’s landscape as well.
“Corona del Mar has a history and uniqueness that can’t be matched by any of the planned communities,” Michael says, “It’s a place where you can do special little things like this art piece, and the community not only accepts it, but they like it.”