Sunday, April 27, 2014

Icons: The Painted Rock

Early on, in the history of our neighborhood, there were only two ways in or out -- you could go west to the freeway, or east to Wasatch Boulevard.

Going east, meant climbing the steep incline of 9400 South, which leveled off as it approached the small community of Granite. This was the gateway to the canyons and the ski resorts, and La Caille -- the french restaurant so expensive and swanky that no one who lived within twenty miles of it could afford to dine there.

Actually, Aaron and I went there for senior prom (not just with each other...we had dates), and all we could afford was desert -- twenty bucks a person. There's quite a story here, but it's rather embarrassing for me to tell, because it involves the awkward hormones of a teenage boy, and the revealing french peasant girl costumes of the female servers at La Caille...

Incidentally, La Caille means "The Quail."

Go figure.

But, I'm derailing my own train of thought...

As you traveled east, before you got to the canyon, and just past the road that led to Granite Elementary, and the little chapel on the right...just on the left, where the road bends, there was a giant boulder. This boulder was not just a rock in a meadow, it was a community sign post.

You couldn't miss it. It was painted -- not with graffiti (per se), but with pictures and messages. And it changed, sometimes frequently, and sometimes it stayed the same for months. I never saw anyone paint it. I assume that it was done clandestinely at night, but I could be wrong about that. I don't think anyone was necessarily trying to hide the fact that they were doing it.

It wasn't vandalism, it was a genuine, organic piece of folk art.

We called it the Painted Rock. Because we were clever like that.

The images I remember most clearly revolve around the holidays. It was the perfect shape to paint into a giant jack-o-lantern. On Independence Day you would often find a flag. In 1976, it was painted as a flag, with the a 76 in the field of stars. I assume it was probably an Easter Egg and a Turkey too. The Painted Rock was always someone's art project. But, it was more than that...

The rock was a community billboard. This was where the newlywed and the newly born were celebrated. This was where those returning were welcomed home. It's where important things were remembered.

After some digging, I found that there is more to the story than I ever knew. Ten years ago, a man from Granite, named Allen Bishop, wrote the story (all of the pictures here are from his article). It was his father who commissioned the first paint job -- while trying to relieve the boredom of some of the young men under his watch, as the bishop of the ward in that area. Bishop and his friends were often the ones who painted the rock, especially early on -- including the Bicentennial Rock. That first paint job was in 1964.

Allen Bishop was writing in 2002, after the rock had been unceremoniously dumped in a hole and buried by a local developer, with little input from the community. His story was an exercise in civic government, and an attempt to explain to the local city council that the rock was a community treasure, and deserved to be exhumed. More than eighty percent of the locals polled agreed. The county government (as well as UDOT)  got involved, and agreed that the rock could be exhumed, provided the people paid to dig it up, and found a different place to put it. All of that was accomplished...and yet...

Twelve years later, the Painted Rock remains buried where it fell.

There are no plaques to commemorate the rock, or what it meant to the people of Sandy and Granite. There is no memorial of this treasure, or to the people who cared so lovingly for it, for 38 years. Graffiti was not unheard of on the rock, but it never lasted long. Someone would always make it beautiful again. I wish there were more pictures, or a book to commemorate all that this boulder meant to so many.

The Painted Rock was as much a part of our community as our homes and churches, our schools and our grocery stores. It was identifiable and unique. Returning from anywhere, it was the Painted Rock that always signaled to me that I was almost home -- including in 1991, when my best friend Aaron, and I assume his merry band of vandals, welcomed me home, from my mission. It was a treasured piece of us, but sometimes treasure is taken for granted...

We passed the rock every time we went up the canyons. I drove past it every day, on the way to high school. It was always there. It always would be.

And then, I took my eyes off of it, and it disappeared.

As the years wore on, the painting became less artistic, and more of a mess. I don't know when I saw it last. One day, it wasn't there anymore.

Maybe it was right to bury it. Maybe progress has to progress. Homes are built, and streets are widened. Maybe it was a piece of history that lived it's life in a simpler time. Maybe something as quaint as the Painted Rock has no place in our world today.

And maybe we should have appreciated it when we had the chance.

And then again, maybe we did.

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