By David A. Laws (March 6, 2021)
Early in the 20th century, in Santa Cruz County, California, the city of Watsonville displayed a prominent banner across Main Street, proclaiming the nickname “The Apple City.” Many city leaders made their living in the business of growing, processing, and shipping apple and apple products all over the country and overseas. As they succeeded, competition became fierce. Growers distinguished their fruit and orchards by creating brand names based on themes and lifestyles of the era that they promoted in vivid color and bold graphics on apple crate packing labels.
"Apple City" sign circa 1910. Photo: Pajaro Valley Historical Association
In 2008, Gabe Lopez, the owner of Golden State Auto Care at 20 East Lake Avenue, commissioned artist Art Thomae to paint a mural based on a Franich Bros. brand label from the 1920s on a side wall of his business overlooking Union Street.
Original F.B. Brand crate label from the 1920s Model for mural.
Inspired by Lopez’s lead, in 2009, the City of Watsonville established an Historic Label Art Mural Project to encourage artists to paint fifteen large murals of early-1900s era apple crate labels on the walls of businesses throughout downtown. Some artists received city financial support; private individuals funded others. Two murals were lost when buildings were razed. Thirteen remain today; eleven of them appear in the photo collage below as printed on page 87 of the Winter 2021 special orchard-themed issue of Eden.
Visit the Watsonville City website to download a pdf walking guide to the murals.