Arts Benicia Moves to the Historic Commanding Officer’s Quarters

After nearly 28 years at 991 Tyler Street, Arts Benicia has moved to the long-vacant Commanding Officer’s Quarters in the Historic Benicia Arsenal district. “This really felt like a great way for Arts Benicia to find newer, larger space and for the City to have a tenant with the right community/cultural fit,” said Janet Davis, Chairperson of Arts Benicia’s Board of Directors. “Terry Scott, Arts and Culture Commission Chair, and Mario Giuliani, Deputy City Manager, could not have been more enthusiastic about a move to the COQ. We were very fortunate to have the legal support of Terry Mollica, who graciously represented Arts Benicia in the lease review process. Rick Knight, Municipal Projects Manager, the key member of the leadership team in the City’s renovation of the COQ, gave us guidance around how the space could be adapted for gallery and classroom use. We are so grateful to Mario Giuliani and to the City Council as well.  Their task, as always, is to first find the best solution for the City and help a community business succeed.  It took some work, but we are thrilled with the results.”

The location on Tyler Street is surrounded by artist studios and features a 2400-square foot gallery space that was constructed in the early 1990s by local artists who helped create the art center space out of former industrial army warehouse space.

In contrast, the new space measures over 5900 square feet on the first and second floors, greatly expanding the space available for galleries, classrooms, offices, project space, and storage. Gallery space is planned on each floor, in adjoining rooms with tall ceilings, fine wood detailing, and floor to ceiling windows. “While the gallery space will be different than the open warehouse experience of the former location, the beauty and historic nature of the Commanding Officer’s Quarters will showcase artists’ artwork in a dynamic new way,” said Celeste Smeland, Executive Director of Arts Benicia. “The different gallery rooms on two floors will allow for presenting one or more exhibitions at the same time, including more ongoing shows that feature work by Arts Benicia members. Plans also include a special projects room that will offer an opportunity for artists to explore and experiment with new ideas, collaborate with other artists, and interact with the public. And there are other improvements, like better and more plentiful parking, ADA ramp access, an elevator, and restroom facilities.  It makes a huge difference for us that all of our guests will be able to enjoy the exhibitions and classes with greater ease of access.”

The Commanding Officer’s Quarters, a two-story brick, stucco-clad building, was built in 1860.

The mansion’s first resident was Julian McAllister, the commander of the installation between 1860 and 1885. The building served as a residence for successive officers and was the location for numerous festive community events during its first century. In 1964, the Benicia Arsenal was closed by the U.S. Army, and ownership was conveyed to the City of Benicia. In November of 1976, the Benicia Arsenal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a district. In 2009, a major renovation was completed, restoring the building.

“The move requires some adjustments to the building,” noted Davis.

“A Gallery System art rail is being installed in those rooms and areas which have been designated as gallery use in order to preserve the integrity of the space. Similarly, in the rooms designated for art instruction, we have begun the process of adding protection to the beautiful hardwood floors so that artists can create with their characteristic exuberance, but don’t damage the floors.” Arts Benicia will raise funds for these and other necessary capital improvements and moving costs, currently estimated to be approximately $50,000. 

“We will be able to expand our offerings of community classes, free Family Art Days, youth and teen art programs as well as other free and low-cost programs to serve our community,” said Smeland. “Our new house will be a place that the community and the City can be proud of.”

Interior of Commanding Officer's Quarters
Interior of Commanding Officer's Quarters