Category Archives: All News

El Presidio SHP Reopens with Enhancements

by Anne Petersen

After being closed for fifteen months due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation is pleased to announce that El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park has reopened to the public with new enhancements designed to support public safety and an improved visitor experience.

Map from the new self-guided tour brochure for El Presidio SHP.

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. 

New interpretive sign at the excavated Presidio aqueduct. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

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.

Enhanced barriers at the Presidio northwest corner archaeology site. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

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.

Touchless hand sanitizing stations at the Park’s public restrooms. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

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.

New Documentary about Santa Barbara City Landmark St. Paul A.M.E. Church Now Available

by Anne Petersen

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.

St. Paul A.M.E. Church, Santa Barbara. Image originally obtained from Laura K. Simmons for publication in African-Americans on the Central Coast: A Photo Essay (Black Gold Cooperative Library System, 1993).

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. 

St. Paul A.M.E. Church as it appears on the 1930 Sanborn map.

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.

Producers/Curators Darrell M. McNeill and Sally Foxen-McNeill.

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 bhmculturehouse@gmail.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.

SBTHP is featured in the National History Day “Ask an Expert” Series

By Anne Petersen

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.

The Flores Adobe/Comandancia of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara in the early 1920s. Courtesy of the Presidio Research Center

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.  

Crop of the site of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara from 1853 map by Vitus Wackenreuder.

NHD discovered the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) via the National Endowment for the Humanities, (NEH) one of their major partners. Last Fall SBTHP received an NEH CARES grant to support our 7th-grade school program, Where We Are From. NEH subsequently recommended SBTHP to National History Day.   

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.

Anne Petersen addresses why multiple perspectives are important to developing a rich understanding of historical events and topics. The video includes how maps and primary documents available at the SBTHP can be used to analyze multiple and competing perspectives in history. To learn more, click here

Plaza de la Guerra Reconsidered Symposium (1999) Now Available Online

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!

The Pandemic Painting Project by Claudia Hoag McGarry

The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation is pleased to offer a series of notecards by local artist Claudia Hoag McGarry based on her paintings of beautifully diverse aspects of El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park.  The images are part of an extensive “Pandemic Project” Claudia began in Spring 2020.  At this point, Claudia has created over 300 paintings, and she continues to paint, almost daily.

The artist, Claudia Hoag McGarry

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.

The Presidio Northeast Corner, by Claudia Hoag McGarry

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.

Claudia paints in her living room and keeps the paintings on display around the room as she works.

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.

Among other places, Claudia finds inspiration on the Mesa in Santa Barbara, where she lives near the ocean.

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. 

Natural landscapes also inspire the artist. Painting by Claudia McGarry

SBTHP’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

by Anne Petersen

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.”

and also:

“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.

The Interesting Life of 914 Santa Barbara Street

by Anne Petersen

The white, wooden building at 914 Santa Barbara Street in El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park (SHP) has had quite a life. Its multiple adaptive reuses have ensured that it not only survived, but that it continued to be valued by the community and to contribute to the character of Santa Barbara’s Downtown.

1930 Sanborn map crop, showing the Santa Barbara School of the Arts campus with 914 Santa Barbara Street highlighted.

The structure was originally two residences, built sometime during the early twentieth century. At that time the 900 block of Santa Barbara Street was residential, with small wooden houses dotting the curb. Until the 1925 earthquake, the much older second commandant’s quarters of the Presidio, or Flores Adobe, anchored the center of the block.

Santa Barbara School of the Arts Office at 914 Santa Barbara Street. Courtesy of the Presidio Research Center.

In 1926, the new Santa Barbara School of the Arts, operated by the Community Arts Association, joined the two structures to be used as offices. The offices were intended to be temporary, while the School built its impressive Spanish Colonial Revival campus on the same site. Due to the Great Depression, however, that dream was never realized. The conjoined residences remained in use as offices for the Community Arts Association, and later the School District’s Adult Education Program and Santa Barbara Junior College.

In 1982 the entire Santa Barbara School of the Arts campus was added to El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP because the site of the Presidio’s northeast corner is located in the parcel. As park operators, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) are both lucky and proud to have a family-run local business occupying the building and allowing continued community access to this special place.

Ignacio and Delia Elias, owners of La Playa Azul. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

La Playa Azul originally opened in 1977 at 902 Santa Barbara St. and operated there until it moved to 914 Santa Barbara Street in 1988. The site of 902 Santa Barbara Street is now the location of the reconstructed Northeast corner of the Presidio. Playa Azul owners Delia and Ignacio Elias operate this locals favorite. Their beautiful outdoor patio, seafood dishes and happy hour win praise from anyone who visits! SBTHP is proud of this long-term relationship with one of our best local businesses.

June 2020 roof replacement work at 914 Santa Barbara Street. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

Historic buildings age, like any organic object, and require ongoing care to survive through the generations. This summer, SBTHP replaced the roof and gutters on 914 Santa Barbara St. and repaired some of the adjacent woodwork. We are proud to partner with Delia and Ignacio Elias to care for this piece of Santa Barbara’s history, in what has evolved to be a long-term and treasured collaboration.

Major Repairs to a Small Gem in the Presidio Neighborhood

by Anne Petersen

In Fall of 2019 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation began repair work on a 1928 commercial building at 131-137 East De la Guerra Street. This modest Spanish Colonial Revival building holds four businesses and one residence. It is included within El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park because if its proximity to the front gate of the original fort. Built with interior gutters, the structure had leaked internally for years without our notice. And once we became aware, precious time passed as we worked on plans, estimates, permits and hired a contractor for the work.

The building is not the oldest, most historically important, or architecturally unusual structure in the Park. Does that mean it is not significant? Not at all. This little building contributes to the qualities and atmosphere that help make up the character of the Presidio Neighborhood. Its low height, inviting display windows and smaller retail spaces give it a scale that makes it comfortable for pedestrians, and imminently usable for local small businesses. Its architectural details give it personality and connect it to the larger city-wide story of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture built after the 1925 earthquake.

Arch motif above Beads. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle. 

The businesses inside are also special. They include Kurt and Leigh Legler’s Warbler Records, the last record shop downtown where you can also find refurbished turntables and other gifts. Mike Pico’s Mailboxes Express has been in the building for over twenty years and serves the entire Neighborhood with his PO Boxes and shipping services. During the holidays be prepared to queue up to mail holiday packages! Steven Soria at Make Smith Leather Co. is our newest tenant. His third-generation leatherworking enterprise just reached its second anniversary, with a workshop in the back and classroom and retail space in the front. Lee and Barbara Nelson at Beads have anchored the corner of the building for over thirty years. Their combination brick and mortar and online business selling a variety of beautiful beads, supplies and beaded jewelry, continues to draw artistic customers with a DIY ethic.

Older, smaller, commercial buildings truly help cities thrive. In a 2017 article touting the results of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s (NHTP) Atlas of ReUrbanism study, former NTHP Executive Director Stephanie Meeks reports:

[In] a comprehensive, block-by-block study of the American urban landscape, areas of older, smaller buildings and mixed-age blocks boast 33 percent more new business jobs, 46 percent more small business jobs, and 60 percent more women- and minority-owned businesses.1

131- 137 E. De la Guerra Street is one of these buildings, and its tenants contribute to the vibrancy of our community by offering essential services and artistic enterprises that enhance the uniqueness of Santa Barbara’s downtown. Our mission at SBTHP is to steward the past and present of the Presidio Neighborhood and inspire preservation advocacy throughout the County in order to create a more vibrant community.  In caring for this building, we are both fulfilling our stewardship mandate, as well as caring for the “present” of the neighborhood, those small, local businesses, and the community that supports them.

Decorative iron gates at the entrance to Warbler Records. Photo by Michal H Imwalle. 

To repair 131 – 137 E. De la Guerra Street, we worked in two stages. The first involved pulling off the plaster, reframing the wall, replacing the gutters, restoring and reinstalling the retail windows, replastering and repainting the wall, installing new gutters, and reinstalling the awnings on the Santa Barbara Street side of the building. We completed this work in Fall 2019. Early in 2020 we began the same work on the De la Guerra Street side of the building. The outbreak of the COVID -19 pandemic slowed this work considerably and added exceptional stress to our retail tenants. We are pleased to announce that the work has been completed, and our thoughts are with our tenants and we try to support them through the compounding challenges of construction and pandemic-related closures.

Repair work begins on Santa Barbara Street. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

In January 2020, the Santa Barbara City Historic Landmarks Commission, in recognition of this building’s contribution to the Presidio Neighborhood, and representation of post-earthquake Spanish Colonial Revival Style commercial architecture, designated the building a Structure of Merit. SBTHP would like to offer special thanks to our partners in this project, Harrison DesignChannel Coast Corporation and Ehlen Spiess and Haight. We encourage you take a walk downtown to this lovely gem, visit the shops, and experience for yourself why it feels like such a special place. There’s a lot to see and do throughout El Presidio SHP!

Completed De la Guerra Street façade July 27, 2020. Photo by Anne Petersen.
Notes

1. Stephanie Meeks, “Density Without Demolition,” City Lab, June 11, 2017. Accessed September 23, 2019