Traveling to the Benicia Arsenal is much like falling into the White Rabbit’s hole. The Wonderland Adventure begins by passing through large wrought iron gates and taking several forks and bends in the road until the waterfront district of the Arsenal is before you. This area holds mystery and edginess with a mix of history and industry. Artists share space with galleries, event facilities, antique and furniture stores, manufacturers, and an active port. The buildings range from historic to converted factory plants.
Playing Alice last week I donned my Mary Jane shoes and set off to see what new things were happening in this curious area. Imagine encountering the Queen of Hearts on the wall at the Arts Benicia recent exhibit “The Art of a Community." Along with the "Queen" there was an amazing life-sized sculpture of what I thought looked like "Eve” as in Adam and …. The exhibit also included an eclectic mix of art mediums that were creatively displayed throughout the gallery.
My next stop was a business that has been in the Arsenal for 18 years, Rags to Riches. It is located in what used to be a loading dock. This consignment boutique offers gently worn clothing and accessories. There’s lots of merchandise available for the growing trend towards recycled fashion. The store also features original art and other collectibles.
Just down the "dock" is a new retail space called Hip Chick Designs. I was attracted to the “chicy-antiquey” French finds presented in this cozy space. I found tea cups that would be suitable for the Mad Hatter’s tea party and some fantastic vintage clothing. The owner, artist Carrie Clayden, uses part of the space as her painting studio. Her work includes pet portraits that could capture the Cheshire cat’s smile and other "chicy" subjects.
Behind the doors of interior Michael Trahan Interior design Studio, one could almost imagine the innovative style and lifestyle merchandising of Trahan’s work. Unfortunately, there was no keyhole to look through that day to check it out.
Just across the way is a massive building that houses the international wallpaper company Bradbury and Bradbury. This structure is fascinating with its sandy colored exterior and sweeping arches. Currently it is being transformed into an imaginative event space – the perfect spot for weddings, corporate functions and parties. The distinctive black-and- white checkerboard floors and curved, dropped-ceiling bar is both dramatic and functional. Outside the entrance is a small garden that compliments the industrial surroundings with a grassy area and huge architectural elements.
Consignment Arsenal is a maze – room after room of antiques, new and used furniture, hidden treasures and one-of-a –kind finds; and furniture from Early American (reminiscent of my mother-In- law’s living room) to Art Deco, a style that seems to revive itself every ten years or so. Architectural firms, dance studios, a knit & yarn shop, florist, photographer, videographer, chiropractor, and who knows what else round-out the businesses populating this formidable building, lending an air of mystery to the place.