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Leaving its mark on Manteca
Peter Sorich does weed abatement in front of his property on South McKinley Avenue on Friday. The land around his graffiti-covered salt-box barn was once a vineyard. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

I call it The Graffiti Barn.

It’s a sight that easily catches the attention of passersby, even if just for a fraction of a second. People westbound on the Highway 120 Bypass can catch a glimpse of this weather-worn unofficial non-monument solitary structure to the right, below the McKinley Avenue overcrossing.

It’s an unusual-enough visage that it has caught the fancy of several artistic souls – judging by the number of photographic portraits and paintings I’ve seen through the years that were inspired by it – who have either pedaled by it or have passed by it while pounding the grassy pavement on McKinley Avenue between the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and West Woodward Avenue.

Its main attraction is neither due to its obvious age and well-worn look – there are many of that around these parts – nor to its salt-box structural style, the closest architectural comparison we could think of. It’s the artwork, arguably of course, that covers the barn’s entire south side – not just plain chalk-white and black marks, but colorful block letters that stand in sharp relief against the blackened boards. One can only surmise it was intended to face that way because it’s the freeway audience that the graffiti artists, to use the word loosely, want to impress.

If you’ve ever wondered how the trespassers ever managed to reach the top to deface the building, you’re not alone. Peter Sorich, who has owned the barn and the 10 acres that it has mutely lorded over for three decades now, merely scratches his head when asked that question. We caught Sorich Friday morning while he was cutting the weeds along the road in front of property using a heavy farming equipment that looked as the proud and imposing as the barn. Like many owners of vacant acreage, Sorich has to do weed abatement mandated by fire districts who are concerned about fire safety especially during the sizzling summer months in the valley when the tinder-dry weeds can quickly turn into a major grass fire.

While the Sorich property – he co-owns it with a 90-year-old business partner who also lives in San Jose – is largely vacant today save for the solitary barn, it was a grape vineyard when they purchased it from someone with the surname Silva back in the 1970s. Inside the barn were a tractor and other equipment when they bought it, said Sorich who came to this country from Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. He was visiting his homeland when the late Pope John Paul II visited his native country in 1990. He smiled with fond memories when he recalled attending the open Mass that was offered by the pope.

Unfortunately for Sorich, the job of cutting the weeds took longer than he expected, thanks to the old heavy equipment that kept breaking down. It was a fix-and-go job for the most part. But it had to be done. He already received a weed-abatement notice from the fire district, he said.