By Kevin McGarry
Film pays tribute to Santa Barbara’s Chinatown and the family-owned bar and restaurant that brought a community together for over 60 years.
Grasshopper for Grandpa, a film by local director/producer Casey McGarry first premiered at the 2015 Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). The short documentary tells the story of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, a celebrated Chinese restaurant and bar in Santa Barbara for 60 years. Jimmy’s opened in 1947 by the Chung Family. Located at 215 E Canon Perdido Street, Jimmy’s quickly became a favorite hangout for a diverse community of people living in or around Santa Barbara’s Chinatown, a neighborhood located inside original quadrangle where the Spanish had established El Presidio Royal de Santa Bárbara in 1782.
Jimmy’s outlived all the other Chinese-owned businesses on the block but eventually closed its doors in 2006 with the retirement of Tommy Chung, Jimmy’s son. The distinctly Chinatown-esque building, constructed in 1947, is now the last visible remnant of Santa Barbara’s historic Chinatown.
Casey’s well-crafted Grasshopper for Grandpa not only gives background to the history of Santa Barbara’s too-often forgotten Chinatown, but also explores why Jimmy’s in particular grew to be so special to so many people– and why its stewards, owner Tommy Chung and 30-year bartender Willy Gilbert, made the experience there so special and left a lasting impression on so many “regulars” and passersby. After the bar closed, in March of 2007, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation purchased Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens from the Chung family. The acquisition of Jimmy’s uniquely enhances SBTHP’s ability to interpret the multi-layered history of Santa Barbara’s Presidio Neighborhood.
The film doesn’t stop there, however. In September of 2013, after the bar reopened after being beautifully restored to its 1947 form by longtime happy hour regular and patron, Bob Lovejoy, and his son, Clay. The restoration is highlighted in the film and leaves the audience with a hopeful look at a legacy and community that the collaboration between Bob and the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation helped to restore. Bob’s bar is called the Pickle Room and the Jimmy’s sign now hangs inside about the bar reminding all patrons of the legacy of the Chung family.
There were 150 people in the audience at screening of Grasshopper for Grandpa at the Alhecama Theatre at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park on June 1, the theatre’s maximum capacity. Before the film, there was a reception outside the theatre. Following the film, Santa Barbara Independent’s Matt Kettman, a Jimmy’s, (and now Pickle Room) regular, moderated a panel discussion that included Bob, Casey, film producers Milo Wolf and Maureen McFadden, SBTHP’s Mike Imwalle, and Tommy’s younger sister, Barbara Chung.
Grasshopper for Grandpa posters and dvds will be available to purchase in the Presidio gift shop soon. Casey’s latest documentary film, The Boatmaker, debuted at the 2017 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
For more photos from the screening of Grasshopper for Grandpa, please visit our Flickr album here.
Kevin McGarry is director of Programs at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.