Nearly three years ago, Manhattan Beach native and artist Gary Sweeney returned to his childhood home on 35th Street and tranformed it into an art exhibit before it was torn down. He covered the home with large-scale graphics of family photos taken by his “very serious amateur” photographer father Mike Sweeney.
Sweeney's family history in Manhattan Beach as well as the journey to the installation, “A Manhattan Beach Memoir: 1945-2015,” is detailed in the new book, “Manhattan Beach Memoir: Artist Gary Sweeney Says Goodbye to His Childhood Home,” which was recently published.
“The whole project is like a reflection on a generation of people,” said Gary, who makes his home in San Antonio. “So many people relate to going on vacation, relate to nostalgia family life in the 50s and 60s.”
For the installation in February 2016 and for the book, Gary chose from hundreds of photos that were taken by his father. The photos include Christmas card photos to a trip around the country in a Econoline van in 1964.
“He collected every photograph he ever took was cataloged and organized, so it was easy for me to have this library of materials for the house,” Gary said.
Along with photos from the installation, the book features essays by Wendy Weil Atwell and Neil Fauerso focusing on the gentrification of the South Bay, social and economic factors that shaped his childhood and other topics.
“It's an overview on how this $5,400 house turned into a multi-million dollar house,” Gary said.
Mike Sweeney was in the Navy in 1945, stationed in Guam during World War II, and ready to return home when his wife, Anita, bought a furnished beach cottage on 35th Street in Manhattan Beach for $5,400.
Mike was making $75 a month as a policeman in San Pedro during the early years of living in the home. One of his jobs was taking crime scene photos. He built a dark room and his family became his subject matter.
Mike became president of the PTA, was a Boy Scout master, was voted Citizen of the Year twice by the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce, served on the Coordinating Council and was a City Council member for 20 years.
Gary and his sister Gail had inherited the house when their mother died in 1994. Gail bought Gary out, but they came to realize it was time to sell.
“I knew the house was going to be torn down and I was sort of heartbroken about it,” Gary said. “This was a house that had been in our family for 70 years. My father built most of it. All my childhood memories were in this house. My grandmother died downstairs in her apartment and my father passed away in his bedroom. My father knew before he died that whoever bought this house was going to tear it down. I needed to do something to honor his photography and highlight our family life.”
That was when Gary returned home and used family photos that Mike took, printed on MDO plywood, and turned the family home into an exhibition. He stayed in the house that February and left before it was torn down because he “didn't want to see it.” But neighbors sent him some photos that ended up in the new book.
Gary said he psyched himself up to go by the house the first time he returned to Manhattan Beach.
“It's not bad, but I still can't believe the house is gone,” Gary said.
The three-bed, three-bath house that replaced the Sweeney home, at 320 35th St., sold in April 2018 for $2.5 million, according to Zillow records.