The 100-year-old bungalow at 8998 Elk Grove Blvd stood vacant for more than a year, a ‘For Lease’ sign outside listing a phone number that no one ever seemed to answer.
Then, a few months ago, signs of life began to appear, of a kind not normally seen around these parts. Brightly colored oil paintings propped against plywood frames in the yard. A trailer carrying a sculpture of a lion lounging under an archway.
It’s all part of a plan hatched by artist Michael Dean and his business partner John Aboubechara: Build a replica of a 15th-century village, complete with faux-stone columns and Renaissance-inspired art, then sell it off piece by piece.
The two have obtained a business license under the name of Byblos Art and Garden and plan to open a combination nursery-gallery featuring Dean’s artwork and a range of outdoor accessories.
“We’ll have benches, barbecues, almost anything you need for a garden,” said Dean, who lives in Sacramento and markets his art under the name Michael Di Nova. The inside of the house will become a series of galleries, Dean said.
Code enforcement complaints
Not everyone is happy about the new incarnation of the building that once housed gardening center .
“It is appalling, ugly, and wrong for our city and Old Town,” one resident grumbled recently on local message board Elk Grove Online. Another called the property a “tacky, deranged shrine.”
Christy Lewis, 16, had a different take when she stopped by the yard with her mother Friday to snap a few photos with her phone.
“I love art,” she said. “I think this is so cool.”
Dean took Elk Grove Patch on a tour of the property, showing off the molds he uses to shape a mixture of cement, fiberglass and sand into intricate, aged-looking friezes.
“Some customers will pay $5,000 [for a piece],” he said.
With that amount of money, Dean said, he can make a mold, hold onto it, and use it to make similar pieces priced as low as $100 for customers on a budget.
City of Elk Grove Code Enforcement Manager Shane Diller said his department has received a handful of complaints about the property and that the owners have cooperated in addressing them—removing a couple of non-working cars and replacing a wrought-iron fence that had been taken down.
Because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, the city's planning department will work with Dean to ensure changes he’s making to the garage preserve the original architectural detail.
As for the quality of the art, that’s for potential customers to decide.
“Art’s not something we enforce,” Diller said. “We don’t get into the art critic business.”
'Ten times better'
Dean said he was born in Monterey before his father’s military career took the family to Germany and Italy, where he studied art. After returning to the United States in the 1980s, he owned a gas station before dedicating himself full-time to the creative life, crafting paintings and sculptures for Las Vegas casinos and wealthy Palm Springs retirees.
He said he often stays up until the wee hours listening to classical music and painting what he sees as improved versions of European masterpieces.
“See the way this arm is falling down and this one is flying over there?” he asked, pointing to a photograph of a Rembrandt painting depicting a line of soldiers. “It’s totally disproportionate.”
“Those guys back then, they got a job and they tried to finish it as soon as they could. He probably didn’t have time to sketch from the first step. The first step is very important.”
So his version will be better?
“Ten times better. Well, maybe not ten times. One time better.”
Dean urged his critics in Elk Grove to be patient. The village will start coming together in about a month, he said.
He’s only got one problem.
“I don’t have any straw for the roofs. Do you know any cowboys?”
Well, readers, do you? And what do you think of the changes to this high-profile Old Town building?