When [my wife,] Nancy, Steve Cloud, Gerry DeWitt, Sam Scranton, and I gathered in our living room in 1979 to form the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation, we were afraid that the 17-acre county-owned facility would be redeveloped as luxury condo housing. Nancy and I organized the Laguna Planning Council, representing the neighborhood between the Riviera and downtown.
The Riviera Association was determined to shut the rock ’n’ roll down. We wanted to create a performing arts park with improved facilities that would sustain a professional music season and still be a place for community celebrations and festivals. It took 12 years to wait out the long lease between the county and Old Spanish Days.
Some favorite concerts from this era included Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell’s Smoke Tour, the Art for Life fundraiser for Central American clinics, a Summer Solstice Festival produced by Jenny Sullivan, and, in the mid 1970s, a Paul Horn and Ali Akbar Khan concert produced by Pemabo Productions.
Since the venue was old and was reinvented each season, as evidenced by the long line of Porta-Potties, it was always a dicey operation subject to political pressure by complaining neighbors. It is now an incredible landmark facility that gives back performing arts education to many parts of the county, especially to families whose children might never see professional musicians or be trained in the performing arts. We wish it well on its diamond anniversary!
Patrick Davis is the former Santa Barbara County Arts Commissioner