Locking down history: San Mateo Lock Works and Safe Center commissions downtown mural

For almost 90 years, the folks at San Mateo Lock Works and Safe Center have been serving the community and a recently completed mural blends some artistic flare with the owners’ proud history.

Gary DeSantis co-owns the long-standing downtown business with his brother Steve and their partner Sid Shimabuku. From an original 1910 lock used at the city’s downtown jail, to state-of-the-art equipment able to program modern car keys, the Second Avenue store is like a miniature museum highlighting the history of locksmithing.

DeSantis said he’s long wanted to spruce up the exterior of the building they own across the street from the movie theater and, after commissioning local artist Morgan Bricca, recently finished a new mural for all to admire.

Directly adjacent to the Main Street Garage, hundreds walk through the alley and now by the artwork depicting two children peeking into a giant vault filled with sports memorabilia, jewels and mementos of the shop’s history.

“We wanted something unique to reflect our business and this history of ours since we’ve been in business since 1927. We thought this would be a good way to dress up the building, improve the look of downtown San Mateo and illustrate some of the history,” DeSantis said, adding it would be great if other property owners also considered unique ways to dress up downtown.

But he noted they’re fortunate to own the building that rents to several other tenants, which enabled them to commission the mural they plan to add to over time.

“I don’t think a small business like ours can survive a long time without buying a property, especially with rents the way they are,” DeSantis said in a nod toward the area’s increasingly expensive rental market.

Even with the extensive history behind their occupation and San Mateo Lock Works being a well-established business, DeSantis said they too are always looking to adapt and stand out.

“We want to incorporate social media,” DeSantis said, suggesting a photo contest once they install a 3-D wrought-iron element into the wall and noting their shop is a frequent stop on downtown scavenger hunts increasingly popular with startup companies.

A fan of the artist Banksy, DeSantis said he’s thrilled to have new art for all to see.

“I’ve always been a fan of street artists, especially the guys that do the really interesting chalk drawings with the forced perspective, multi-dimensional stuff,” he said.

With cellphones having overtaken the days of word-of-mouth recommendations or traditional advertising, DeSantis said he recognizes the importance of having an Internet presence and engaging the public.

“We’re probably the first or second oldest business in downtown, so rather than just have that history that only really old people know about, we need everybody that’s looking for a service like ours to somehow realize that we’re a well-established business that’s family owned and been here since 1927,” DeSantis said.

Whether you need something as simple as having a key cut, are looking to improve your home security systems or interested in a safe to store large valuables, DeSantis said they’re equipped for business.

Plus, with a variety of displays including locks from the 1800s, rusted handcuffs, decorative door knobs, chastity belts and a refurbished safe used during prohibition at a long-gone speakeasy in San Mateo, there’s plenty to marvel at during a visit.

“The history of locksmithing is very long. Houdini was a locksmith, that’s one of the reasons he could do what he could. We like to pay homage to the history of locksmithing,” DeSantis said, proud of the shop and its employees. “We have a great team of locksmiths that have all been here a long time and this will probably be the last job they have.”

San Mateo Lock Works and Safe Center is located at 321 Second Ave., San Mateo. Visit www.sanmateolockworks.com for more information.