Flag Barn

Photo by Tony Kukulich

A volunteer effort in conjunction with the East Bay Regional Park District is underway to restore the flag barn near Vasco Road in rural Contra Costa County, Calif., as seen Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. Local sources say the flag was originally painted by Sgt. Paul Fontaine of the San Jose Police Department shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

An iconic landmark in East County is about to get a facelift.

Through rolling hills and seas of grass, nothing stands out on Vasco Road quite like the historic barn with Old Glory painted along its wall. Colloquially known as “the flag barn” by locals, it was first painted after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, by local artist and San Jose Police Sgt. Paul Fontaine.

At the time, Fontaine was working for the graffiti enforcement team and would drive by the barn each day on his way to work, shaking his head at the vulgar words sprayed across the structure. 

“I always thought it was the perfect canvas for the flag, but I kept driving,” he said.

But after the attacks occurred on 9/11, he decided to turn the thought into a reality. 

“The barn is a statement of our pride — our courage — and I believe it’s a bond that we needed at the time,” said Fontaine, who only recently shared he was the one to paint the flag. “For 18 years, only my closest friends knew I painted it. But nobody needed to know it was me. The flag is there, and it’s for you just as much as it’s for me.”

The painting took three days, and Fontaine recalled people honking and yelling encouraging words from their windows as they passed. Even though it slowed down the painting time, he made a commitment in his mind to wave to each. 

Going back further in history, the flag barn and the larger building nearby were originally built on the land of John Samuel Armstrong, an Irish immigrant who settled in Byron in the late 1880s and now rests at Union Cemetery. 

While time has made the barn historic, it has also taken its toll on the wood and paint. Fontaine largely credits Steve Verduzco — owner of Our Town Brentwood, a community Facebook page dedicated to the “the people, places, events and history of Brentwood and the Brentwood area” — for bringing the barn’s neglect to the community’s attention.

“Tuesday morning I went out to the flag barn to see how it’s holding up,” wrote Verduzco in a December post. “It looked ok until I got closer and saw it from this angle. East Bay Regional Parks, please let us shore it up. I for one want to have it stand for many more years.”

Comments poured in. One community member recalled the flag’s creation.

“The barn flag was painted a few days after 9/11. It needs to be preserved,” wrote John Hilbelink in response to the post. “I am reminded every day that I pass. I remember seeing the guy on the ladder painting that. Traffic coming to a halt ... and no one caring.”

Little did they know, local resident Jissele Chivers — who happens to work for the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) — was already reading the conversation as it unfolded on the public page. The concern from the public got her thinking. Chivers reached out to her supervisors and those directly in charge of the region where the barn stands to see what needed to be done to get it restored. She said the request to revitalize the barn was met with excitement.

“That flag barn holds a special place in my heart, because I’ve always commuted, and I’ve always driven by it, and it’s one of those breaths of fresh air,” said Chivers. “When you see the flag barn, you know you’re almost home and that crazy commute and the crazy workday go out the window, and you get into that home comfort routine ... I told (my supervisors) about the post and how everyone wants to help, that our community doesn’t want to see this fall.”

Chivers stayed in contact with those on Facebook, announcing new progress through the Our Town Brentwood page, and later creating her own page to disseminate information. Support for the project blew up with volunteers offering services and materials. 

Three contractors have stepped forward, all of the paint has been donated and acquisition of more materials is in the works. Fontaine has also been invited to retouch his original work once structural restoration is complete, though he said the task doesn’t need to be his alone.

“The barn is yours just as much as mine now,” he said. “It’s not like I have to go out there and paint it by myself. In my mind, anyone who wants to put a piece of paint on the barn should be allowed just as much as I am.”

Chivers and the EBRPD aim to begin the project once the weather clears up in the beginning of March, and complete painting within a few weeks of commencing work. It’s possible the repair team will need more materials, such as lumber. Anyone with available resources they’re willing to donate is encouraged to connect with Chivers.

“I am overjoyed and overwhelmed by the support for this local landmark,” she said, “and I’m going to do what I can to make it happen.”

For more information or to connect with Chivers regarding supplies, visit www.bit.ly/2s4ttRz.