Jeff Jardine

Downtown’s keyboard crosswalks credit strikes chord with creator Griswold

If you head into downtown Modesto on Thursday, you’ll see a crew applying the finishing touches to crosswalks they’ve painted to resemble piano keys and other music-related artwork.

Several agencies, including the Downtown Modesto Partnership, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Modesto Class of 2017, the city of Modesto, the Culture Commission and some individuals have been instrumental in making it happen.

Watching with interest is longtime Modestan John Griswold. He posted the keyboard crosswalk concept as silliness on his Facebook page in September 2016, and it soon morphed into a real project. Now, he’s puzzled because his name seems to be missing from the credits.

“I was looking at an aerial view of downtown Modesto, at the area over by Stanislaus Implement & Hardware (at 10th and F streets),” Griswold said. “(The view) kind of ended at I Street, and then it hit me – keyboards for the crosswalks by the Gallo Center.”

Anything, Griswold joked, but another mural of a Chevy. The car culture isn’t Modesto’s only culture.

He played around with a computer program to impose the piano keys on all four crosswalks at each intersection. Having some fun, he created a ground-level depiction and imposed the famous shot of The Beatles striding across their Abbey Road album cover. Except in his version George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon crossed 10th Street from the Gallo Center.

“I had fun doing it. I put it on Facebook and people started making comments,” Griswold said. “David Benn (friend and former Memorial Medical Center CEO) encouraged me to do something about it.”

Griswold said he took the concept to Nancy Young at Modesto’s Downtown Improvement District. She, in turn, contacted City Community and Economic Development Director Cindy Birdsill, who liked the idea as well.

Birdsill showed it around, and it caught the eye of Leadership Modesto, each class of which does a project for the community.

About two weeks after Griswold posted his depictions on Facebook – and unaware of his posting because they aren’t Facebook friends – City Public Information Officer Amy Vickery came across a photo of a similarly painted crosswalk in Long Beach. Thinking it would be great for Modesto, she tweeted the photo to Lynn Dickerson, executive director of the Gallo Center for the Arts. Unaware of Griswold’s graphics, Dickerson assumed it was Vickery’s idea and gave her the credit, along with the Gallo Center’s endorsement for the project. To be clear, Vickery herself never claimed credit for the idea.

The project moved forward quickly, and by December the Leadership Modesto class – Birdsill is a member – decided to make it the group’s annual project.

Yes, Birdsill confirmed, the idea was indeed Griswold’s. He and Julie Scherer, who like Birdsill is a member of the city’s Culture Commission, submitted concepts of how the crosswalks should look, sans the Abbey Road look. (Sorry, Beatles Harrison and Lennon are dead. McCartney and Starr would impede traffic).

The planners chose Griswold’s concept of the piano keys primarily and also will include Scherer’s idea of notes and other music symbols.

This one can’t compare with the public snit a few years ago between former California State University, Stanislaus, Presidents Marvelene Hughes and Hamid Shirvani. Hughes started projects that her successor Shirvani finished. They let their huge egos boil over in a letter-writing war in letters to The Bee’s Opinions pages, embarrassing themselves in the process.

Omitting Griswold’s name and role represented an oversight, not ego trips. These kinds of projects happen only because people on many fronts step up and do their share. The further the project has progressed, the more the agencies involved have put their names on it. The unveiling is set for May 12, from 4 to 6 p.m. in front of the Gallo Center.

Griswold’s role, Birdsill assured, won’t be ignored.