Of Art and Food, Jardines Celebrates Patriarch

The San Juan Bautista restaurant will mark the birthday of its late founder, artist Manuel Santana, on Saturday.

Jardines de San Juan, with expansive courtyards and an old movie theater transformed into a banquet area, is the place to party in San Juan Bastista.

Come Saturday, that's exactly what will happen as the new owners of the marquee restaurant celebrate what would have been their grandfather's 85th birthday.

Manuel Santana, an artist-turned-restaurateur, died in 2008 at the age of 81. Two of his grandchildren, siblings Angelina and Valentine Santana, inherited Jardines in San Juan Bautista. They took control of Jardines in September, and decided to mark their ownership and the family patriarch's birthday with a party and art show.

Santana opened Jardines in 1977. It was his second restaurant; .

The sprawling property in the heart of San Juan Bautista, 16 miles east of Watsonville on Highway 129, is an homage to Santana's memory.

He built the courtyards by hand: laying the individual bricks, planting the trees, and cultivating succulants and cactus. The restaurant still maintains a nursery in the back of the property to keep the gardens vibrant.

The ceiling in the old movie theater is painted red and pink, colors Santana selected, then asked his friends to help him slap on the boards. Elsewhere in the restaurant, elaborate mirrors adorn the walls.

Soon, Santana's art will grace the restaurant as well.

Santana had studied art in school, but gave it up to support his family first as a cab driver and house painter, then with his restaurants. It wasn't until his retired somewhere north of 60 years old that Santana picked up a paintbrush again and began making art with flourish.

He painted, sculpted and more in his studio on the Westside of Santa Cruz. The year he died, Santana was named artist of the year in Santa Cruz County. But during that time, Santana was humble about his creations and rarely displayed his work.

"He didn't want people to be forced to see his art," Angelina said.

She and Valentine now own Santana's art and plan to display it on a rotating fashion at Jardines. They also hope to reopen his Santa Cruz studio as an art gallery, Angelina said.

The siblings grew up in Santana's restaurants, but went away from the business as they got older. Valetine became a violin player in Santa Cruz. Angelina moved to Boston, then Brooklyn, where she is a photographer. Since taking over Jardines, she's bi-coastal and intends to return to the Central Coast full-time.

The restaurant is an act of love now.

"I had my birthday parties out here as a kid," said Angelina, 25, laughing at the memory of dressing in tutus and dancing to the live mandolin music. Billy Packard, the mandolin player, still performs at Jardines on the weekends and will be at the party Saturday.

Old friends of the family, Jardines regulars and those interested in checking out Santana's art are expected at the birthday event. Angelina even invited Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his wife, Sylvia, who live in Carmel Valley.

"They used to come in all the time," Angelina said.

Jardines, of course, serves a menu of Mexican fare. Angelina's favorite is the flautas, but it's hard to go wrong with any of it. Enjoying a blended margarita—even a virgin, tequila-free glass—on the patio in the sunshine is a refreshing treat. The guacamole is a whipped, fresh-made treat and the salsa is so good, the restaurant cans it and sells it at the bar.

Saturday's party will feature wine and appetizers, "and hopefully sunshine," Angelina said. 

The party is 2-6 pm. Saturday. RSVP by calling 831-332-0180. The restaurant is at 115 Third St. in San Juan Bautista.

Cyn Reynaud March 28, 2012 at 12:50 PM
This story has brought back many pleasant memories of family gatherings-- first date, birthdays, a wedding and much more at Jardines. Yes, of course, also the restaurant Manuels in Aptos is a great place to kick back at after a day at the beach. I will be there to support this event. Thank yous for telling a bit of the story of Manuel Santana.
Steve Bankhead March 28, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Since this is Watsonville Patch, a reminiscence should be made of Mannie's local restaurant La Manzana, which was open in the 1980's on the 100 block of West Lake across from the Resetar Hotel. It offered fine food, live music, and a beautifully landscaped courtyard, where one could enjoy an excellent meal enhanced by acoustic guitar or other musical enjoyment. It was walking distance from my home, and I walked there a lot. Alas, like other upscale restaurants, it was unable to remain open after the cannery strike, earthquake, and the resulting long decline of Watsonville's economy.
Jennifer Squires March 28, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Steve, I didn't know about La Manzana but as a regular patron of Manuel's in Aptos and now a fan of Jardines, sounds like the third restaurant would have been a wonderful addition to Watsonville.
Cathy P. March 28, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Jardines is beautiful. I love the courtyards with all the succulents, flowers, and live chickens roaming around under the begonias and ferns. I attended a Wedding that was held in the back patio completely surrounded by roses last Fall. Even though I'm not a fan of the food, I'd love to see Mr. Santana's artwork and "rub elbows" with Leon & Sylvia Panetta :)


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