For a guy who started from the bottom up, Jesse Escalera has managed to make a name for himself over the years through his backyard masterpieces.
With a “fake it ’til you make it” attitude, he is a self-taught handyman who started his own business at the age of 16. To drum up customers, he advertised in the local penny saver. And to further his education, he read all the books on concrete that he could put his hands on.
“I’d go to Home Depot and read books until they would kick me out,” says Escalera. “That’s how I learned — just winging it.” By the time he was 21, he began to dabble in concrete. And somewhere along the line, his handiwork morphed into some amazing jobs.
After finishing one of his first concrete projects for a well-off man named John Alcantar, Escalera was asked what he thought of Alcantar’s estate. Always outspoken, he gave his honest opinion about how he would change things. Fast forward to now — Escalera is 38 — and he’s still tweaking that vision for his now long-term client.
Escalera quickly realized that successful individuals who are used to working with generally agreeable contractors valued his blunt and honest opinions. “My clients put a lot of money into these projects and they always know that they want something awesome, but they don’t always know exactly what they want. They see value in my ability to tell them what they need in their space,” says Escalera.
Clients come first
From there, his list of clientele began to grow as his reputation of being honest and opinionated gained momentum. Praise from his well-to-do clients went a long way in that circle as Escalera began to be known as an extravagant, outlandish, over-the-top artist who knew what he was doing.
Now owner of Proscapes OC, a design and build firm in Huntington Beach, California, with a team of 20 or so employees, Escalera says his company is known for its unique design, quality construction, reliability and unmatched integrity. Although most of the projects he works on are extensive makeovers, he relishes designing projects totally from scratch, from concept to completion. “I imagine it first, then sell it to the client and then figure out how I’m going to make it,” he says.
His company’s projects run the gamut, he says, including those featuring RGB color-changing LED lighting, subterranean movie theaters and robotically controlled TV enclosures. Because Proscapes offers a wide variety of services besides decorative concrete, its employees run the gamut, from plumbers and electricians to masons and welders.
“Once you have become a Proscapes customer, you’re taken care of,” he says, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the problem. “Even if it’s just for a broken sprinkler head or some advice on what furniture to buy for your new backyard,” someone will help you out.
Out of the ordinary is the norm
Escalera says he has worked on more than his share of extraordinary projects that involve both horizontal and vertical surfaces. For starters, there was the concave-shaped waterfall that incorporated champagne bottles filled with LEDs designed to create the illusion that they follow or trace a person as they walk by. Another waterfall he did in Chino Hills was 16 feet tall and equipped with a water slide.
Wildly realistic rock work is another one of Proscapes’ specialties. “One of my guys kept saying ‘let me do rock work, I can do it,’ so eventually I let him do it and the clients loved it,” says Escalera. To round out that division, he hired a couple of other guys to help.
He says other notable projects his company has crafted include interesting subterranean rooms — also called safe rooms — made of concrete. “One we did was a theater that (doubled as) an underground bunker,” says Escalera. “It kind of looks like an old train car with vaulted walls and crushed velvet detailing — all underground on a hillside.”
When it comes to countertops and wall caps, Proscapes casts them in place. Escalera says he doesn’t believe in using fly ash to make a mix stronger. Instead, for decks or countertops, he likes to add a fortifier and typically uses seven sacks of portland cement per yard. “We never pour anything that’s less than 3,000 psi mix,” he says.
And if it comes down to traditional or progressive design, he’ll pick the latter. “We just like doing things that are cool,” he says. “We’re known for our artistic nature.”
Fire and water mix
Escalera says Proscapes does it “all” — rockwork, flatwork, countertops, grottos, concrete trees. It has even made snakes and erected a tyrannosaurus rex in a backyard.
Two very noticeable elements that appear in his projects over and over are fire and water. When asked where the inspiration came from, Escalera says, “We were wired to be around fire when we were cavemen. No matter where you place it in a house, everyone wants to be around it. You’re drawn to light and mesmerized by fire.”
Running water, on the other hand, calms people, he says. It’s a welcoming sound that most everyone likes, even the neighbors. Proscapes usually tries to incorporate it whenever it can. It, too, is “part of our nature,” says Escalera.
A firm believer
As a designer and contractor, Escalera says he has a unique approach as a true artist and visionary. He’s usually unwilling to compromise and stands firm in his belief on how something should be done. That’s what’s gotten him where he is today, he says.
“Sometimes I have to argue with my clients so they understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m pretty convincing,” says Escalera. “If I’m at their house they already know me and know my work. They have fallen in love with something else I’ve done.” This makes his persuasion a little easier to go along with.
Escalera has been featured in Coast Magazine and in the TV series, “Flip or Flop.”