While preparing El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP for reopening on July 15, 2021, Michael H. Imwalle noticed that the halyard to the Presidio flagpole had been vandalized.
Someone cut the rope leaving it dangling from one clip and the halyard would need to be repaired before we could raise the flags again at the park. After briefly searching for a local company that could repair flagpoles, Imwalle contacted Brad Houchin of Brad’s Flagpole Repair, a steeplejack by trade.
Steeplejacks are people that climb buildings, towers, steeples, poles, etc. to make repairs. Houchin graciously came up from the Ventura the next day to climb the pole and restring a new halyard so that we were able to fly the flags for the park opening.
Houchin asked if we had ever considered painting the flagpole. The existing 27-foot tall flagpole consisted of recycled oil field pipe with a stationary pulley attached to a threaded steel cap. In the spirit of the park reopening, we asked Houchin for a proposal to paint the pole white, install a decorative finial, and install a new pulley on a rotating truck. The rotating pulley prevents the flag from wrapping around the pole when the wind changes directions. After checking with California State Parks for administrative approval, we accepted their proposal and scheduled the work for the following week.
Monday July 19th, Houchin returned to the Presidio to begin sanding and priming the bare metal flagpole. He began sanding at the top, wiping the sanded pole, then applying a coat of white primer.
The following day he installed the new bronze finial, new rotating pulley, and painted the final coat on his way back down the pole for the last time. July 22nd the park was open for the first time with a freshly painted flagpole flying new flags.
Michael H. Imwalle is the Associate Executive Director of Cultural Resources for SBTHP. All images are his own.
The Museums for All program launched in 2014 as an equity initiative to serve a broad public. Co-hosted by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM), the program requires that participating museums offer free or low-cost admission to visitors who present their SNAP EBT (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Electronic Benefit Transfer) card. In California this program is called CalFresh. By removing cost as a barrier to entry, Museums for All intends to encourage more widespread museum attendance and help support the next generation of museumgoers by fostering a culture of welcome and accessibility.
The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation became aware of this program a couple of years ago and had participation in mind when creating our 2020-2022 Diversity Equity and Inclusion Plan. While our participation is meaningful on its own, the impact county-wide would be difficult to measure. During the pandemic and related shutdowns and museum closures, the Santa Barbara County Museum Director’s group began meeting frequently online and offering mutual support. I coordinated a presentation about Museums for All earlier this year, and the group embraced the concept and agreed they wanted to create a county-wide initiative for participation.
Museums for All recognizes any city with three or more participants in the program as a “Hub City.” While we hoped to be recognized as a “Hub County,” reflecting our cooperation county-wide, Museums for All does not yet have that designation. Regardless, we have made astounding progress in a short amount of time and are promoting our county-wide efforts as a collective. We currently count eighteen participating Santa Barbara County museums! Museums for All has reported on Santa Barbara’s rapid registration rate in their newsletter and let us know that of the Hub Cities in their program, only the City of Chicago has more participating institutions!
A new self-guided tour brochure presents updated information about the park, with a clear path of travel and an upgraded map. New signage complements the park with beautiful imagery and interpretive content.
El Presidio SHP contains several exposed archaeological sites dating to the construction of the fort in the late-eighteenth century. The sites have all been enhanced with new protective rope and pole barriers.
SBTHP has implemented Covid-19 public health protocols according to public health guidelines designed to protect the safety of our visitors and staff. New features include touchless hand-sanitizing stations throughout the park, plexiglass barriers in the Visitor Center, and an electrostatic sanitizing sprayer to disinfect commonly used areas, including park bathrooms.
We are grateful for the support of the Union Pacific Foundation and California Humanities for their support of these important enhancements for public access to El Presidio SHP. With this support we ensured not only that we could reopen the park safely after an unprecedented public health crisis, but also that we could offer an improved visitor experience when we did reopen.
To plan your visit to El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park please click here.
On May 31, 2020, Healing Justice and Juneteenth Santa Barbara issued a list of demands for action that included in part: “We demand protection and preservation of Black landmarks.” The demands identified specific buildings to be designated as historic resources including St. Paul A.M.E. Church at 502 Olive Street.
There had been an African Methodist Episcopal church on the site of 502 Olive Street since 1906, when it was the only structure on the entire block, and Olive Street was known as Canal Street. It was built by the local African American congregation to serve as a house of worship for its members. By 1930, the Church, possibly a newer building constructed after the 1925 earthquake, had taken on the form we recognize today—a larger and more substantial building with an attached dwelling. In 1990 St. Paul A.M.E. Church was added to the City’s list of potential Historical Resources and assigned the note: “potential Landmark status.” A City landmark is the highest level of designation offered by the City.
Following the release of the demands from Healing Justice, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation and almost 700 other individuals and organizations sent letters to the City Historic Landmarks Commission requesting the immediate designation of St. Paul A.M.E. Church and the wider preservation of Black Landmarks. On August 11, City Council approved the Landmark Designation.
In February 2021, local producers/curators Darrell M. McNeill and Sally Foxen-McNeill screened their new project, Celebrating St. Paul A.M.E., as part of the Santa Barbara Black History Month Culture House, which they hosted online this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Darrell and Sally generously worked with SBTHP to help share the documentary widely with the public, and we know this project will be of interest to the local preservation community as well as the general public. The documentary features current Reverend Elbert Sherrod, former Reverend Jeff Clark, church elder Margaret Young, and former Santa Barbara resident and St. Paul church member Diane Hale, who discuss the church as an institution and its importance for the local Black community. You can watch the documentary below >>
We asked Darrell and Sally a few questions about their documentary and how we can keep up with their future projects:
What inspired you to choose St Paul A.M.E. Church as the subject for a documentary?
The idea came from Sally, a lifelong Santa Barbara resident. When we were mapping out programming for this year’s edition of Culture House, we had several concepts with regional Southern California and national/general interest, but nothing grounded here to Santa Barbara proper. As good as the programming was, it wasn’t as locally connected as other Black History Month programming being developed by our colleagues and supporters like SB Healing Justice, Juneteenth SB and several other culture forward Black groups we’ve aligned with when we first launched Santa Barbara Black History Month Culture House in 2020. Sally suggested St. Paul A.M.E. as it had been granted City Landmark status in the summer of 2020, in no small part due to the demands of these groups (and others) that it be recognized. St. Paul’s story still resonated with so many people within the Black community but felt very much insulated within and muted outside of it. So, since we had to pivot to online exclusive programming for the 2021 edition of the Culture House during the pandemic, a documentary about the church seemed like a natural fit. Sally actually attended the church many years ago and has friends who were connected to either the church or the pastors and they were all very happy to participate or make referrals.
What can you share about your future projects, and how can we stay informed about your work?
We are working on creating an online home for all of the content we’ve created for the 2021 Santa Barbara Black History Month Virtual Culture House, so the programming we did this February has an opportunity to reach a broader audience. Sally remains a staunch advocate for the Santa Barbara community and is continuing her efforts as a Council Member of the Neighborhood Advisory Council. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara High School Alumni Association.
As for other projects, I’m currently doing research for a book I’m writing about the historic and cultural erasure of Black creators, performers and contributors to rock and roll music. I am also Director of Operations for the Black Rock Coalition. We had a program on deck at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for 2020 that was scrubbed due to the pandemic but we’re getting it back on track for November 2021. I’m also editing a documentary I developed about contemporary Black comedy and creatives that was originally scheduled for the Virtual Culture House, but had to be cancelled due to technical issues. And, naturally, we hope to find another pop-up space for the Culture House in 2022.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
We are both incredibly gratified so many Santa Barbarans have supported us over the last year-plus, especially this past February when none of us could be in the same room. We eagerly look forward to when we can all openly and freely congregate, dialogue, exchange and embrace, not just physically or intellectually, but spiritually. For those who want to keep tabs on us and what we’re doing, please reach out to us at email@example.com.
SBTHP is grateful to Darrell M. McNeil and Sally Foxen-McNeill for sharing their work about this important new City landmark with a wide audience. We continue to support the related initiative to document and preserve the history of the African American community in Santa Barbara. On April 13, SBTHP spoke at City Council in support of a grant application to the California Office of Historic Preservation to create a Black/African American Historic Context Statement for the City of Santa Barbara, which was approved unanimously, and we will submit a letter of support along with the application.
Our local historic preservation program helps define who we are as a community. Historic buildings remind us of our moments of triumph, help us remember and grieve our tragedies, and help document the daily life of our diverse residents and the institutions they built. We will continue to support efforts to ensure that historic preservation work in our community is as inclusive as possible.
National History Day (NHD) is a nonprofit organization committed to encouraging the study and practice of history by high school students in the United States. They provide curriculum materials and support to schools to help students develop the skills to conduct historical research and writing. National History Day is most well-known for its annual National History Day Contest, when over 600,000 students across the United States compete locally and regionally, with the top candidates advancing to the national competition at University of Maryland College Park.
In order to support and prepare students for the contest, National History Day provides teachers with a wealth of resources. One of these tools is a videos series called “Ask an Expert,” in which historians working in a variety of fields offer advice and suggestions to students about different aspects of historical work. I was pleased to be invited this year to create a video with NHD staff on the importance of looking at multiple perspectives in historical research.
Many people assume that historians work in universities and write academic publications. This video allows SBTHP to help broaden students’ knowledge about where historians work and what they do by featuring our historical work at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. The video explores not only our preservation work, but also how students can explore history through the study of a place, including their own community, using its maps, architecture, and social history. We hope the video will also be helpful to local schools and will be incorporated into our future school programs.
Plaza de la Guerra is once again at the forefront of community conversations about Santa Barbara’s downtown revitalization. On December 18, 2020 the City’s De la Guerra Plaza Revitalization Advisory Committee recommended that City Council move a newly-designed concept plan out of the Committee and into the City’s Development Application process. The concept plan had been in the works for over one year. You can read more about the origins of this recent work here and sign up for project updates here.
The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) is an active stakeholder in this revitalization process. We held a seat on the recent Advisory Committee at the invitation of City Council, but that reflects only our most recent engagement. In 1999, SBTHP worked with the City to create and exhibition about the history of the Plaza as well as an accompanying catalog of the exhibit, Plaza de la Guerra Reconsidered, which was published in 2002.
On June 12, 1999, SBTHP hosted a related symposium titled “Plaza de la Guerra Reconsidered: Past is Prologue” which was held in City Council chambers. The symposium was introduced by SBTHP Executive Director Jarrell jackman and moderated by Chief Curator Patrick O’Dowd. Speakers included:
Dora P. Crouch, Professor Emeritus, School of Architecture, Renessalaer Polytechnic Institute, New York
Wayne Donaldson, FAIA, Milford Wayne Donaldson Architects (and later CA State Historic Preservation Officer and Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation)
Dave Davis, Community Development Director, City of Santa Barbara
Carroll William Westfall, Chair, School of Architecture, University of Notre Dame, South Bend
Robert Winter, Professor Emeritus, History Department, Occidental College, Los Angeles
With the City’s recent renewed interest in making improvements to the Plaza, we believe the symposium would be of interest to the community and the presentations still hold great relevance. We are grateful that Tony Ruggieri of Santa Barbara City TV was able to transfer the contents of a VHS tape in the Presidio Research Center collection and upload them to the City of Santa Barbara’s YouTube Channel, which you can view below or by clicking here!
We asked Claudia for more information about her project and her passion for painting. Below are portions of that interview, edited for length.
Q: How did this project begin? Have you always painted? Or is this something that began with the pandemic?
A: My sister and my husband both had the idea simultaneously to give me art supplies. So, without having even asked for them, I received canvases, watercolor paints, acrylics and watercolor paper. Quarantine and Covid had begun to inch its way into all of our lives. So, I started painting. I had hardly painted since I was 20 and in college. I only took one art class in my 20s. It was figure drawing.
Q: Tell us about your process.
A: All through my 300 paintings from 4/4/2020 to 11/4/2020, I painted when I awoke. Early, around 6 am, I make my coffee, turn on the news, or sometimes just music, watch the light come through the windows where we live near the ocean bluffs on the Mesa, and I paint. It usually takes me 2-3 hours per painting and somedays I do 2 a day.
Q: How would you describe the meaning of this project for you during this time?
A: This was something of a gift. It was a gift to me because I learned that in the 43 years that I had not painted, now I was flourishing and happy as a painter. It was therapeutic during a stressful time of this awful societal illness and political upheaval. But, equally satisfying was the reaction I received from many friends on social media. People started praising my work and finally, 2 weeks after posting daily, someone asked me if that day’s work was for sale. Within 3 months I had sold 60 paintings. They were going everywhere: NY, Texas, Poland, Utah, etc.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
A: I taught English Skills at SBCC [Santa Barbara City College] for 32 years. I also have had three novels published and four plays produced, some shown at the Alhecama [Theatre in El Presidio SHP]! I have optioned a television pilot and written screenplays. We raised three children into adulthood who are all very caring, smart, artistic and musical. My husband is a talented musician. Moving on to painting seems only natural in how my life has progressed. It happened so organically. I feel so fortunate in every way. I am thrilled and humbled to share my art with your wonderful organization.
You can find Claudia’s Santa Barbara Presidio series notecards here. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our Gift Shop sales are online only, and we offer both shipping and curbside pickup.
The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) is committed to following best practices in our field in our ongoing efforts to be responsive to our community. In fact, demonstrating progress towards national standards in the history, museum, preservation and nonprofits fields is one of the goals in our 2019-2021 Strategic Plan. Today, we can announce that we have taken a significant step towards that aim as we present our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Plan (2020 -2022).
The development of this plan was neither quick nor simple. Its origin lies in the planning work conducted in 2018 to develop our strategic plan, including input from the many community members who participated in focus groups and contributed to the direction of the plan. New organizational value statements we developed through that process include, in part:
“SBTHP promotes the diversity of cultures that comprise(d) the Presidio Neighborhood.”
“SBTHP values and celebrates cooperation, partnership, equity, inclusivity, and diversity.”
We recognize that truly living our organizational values is not an inevitable outcome of announcing them. To address this, we included an objective in our strategic plan to develop a DEI Plan in order to create specific and measurable goals and objectives for this work. We also committed to sharing our plan publicly to ensure accountability from the organization.
Our staff and board began diversity, equity and inclusion training with Just Communities and consultant Judy Guillermo-Newton in the Fall of 2019. The Santa Barbara Foundation generously funded this work. The training, completed in March 2020 (days before the statewide shutdown due to COVID-19), provided our staff and board with a common language for the work ahead, and helped identify principle areas of focus and improvement to fulfill the promise of our strategic plan.
The ensuing months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and nationwide antiracism movement as a result of the murder of George Floyd, galvanized our resolve to complete our DEI Plan, even as we, board and staff, struggled with uncertainty in our field, and in our daily lives. Today we present this 2 1/2-year DEI Plan, not as an accomplishment, but as a first step, and a declaration of the important work ahead of us. We also recognize that we will be updating and issuing subsequent versions of this plan as we continue our organizational transformation.
We are learning that to make a DEI initiative stick, and to create real organizational change, requires hard work. It takes time, and a significant amount of discussion, self-reflection and discomfort from within the institution. It cannot belong to one person, and while we have learned from, and been inspired by the work of many others, the path ahead is ours to walk. We commit to continue the hard work and introspection required to make our organization more of service to, and embedded in, our community as we implement this plan.
Visit our website to see our DEI Policy Statement, and Goals, and also a downloadable pdf of the full plan. We have also added a list of free resources from the nonprofit, local history, museum, arts and preservation fields that we will be consulting as we conduct our work, and which we believe will be helpful for others.
Up-to-date news, notes, and behind the scenes at SBTHP