Dubuque Not Our Alma

For how many months have I seen the Alma del Pueblo full-page ads in the front of the Independent, with the colored sketch showing trees covering much of the roofline of the new project, but showing the beloved Arlington beyond? Surely this must have real community support, I thought.

Then, a month or so ago, I came face-to-face with the actual buildings on Victoria Street, with plaster on the walls, and was shocked to see that the carefully camouflaged roofline in the sketch resembled a five-and-dime store close by our house near Dubuque, Iowa. Both sides of the Victoria facade step up to a flat-top piece, and a warehouse space inside was just visible. The space for the trees in the sketch would be only a few feet from the building front – yet those trees were wide-branching, not skinny cypress to fit the space. Where is the tile roof, the accents, the arches, the proportions, or the symphony of form that is the Arlington?

The massing of buildings elsewhere also has nothing of the Arlington’s sensitive Spanish colonial character, and the tall, bland public-works style mosaic murals leave the west front without windows or any relief for the poor residents across the street. Who determined that this giant utilitarian piece of tilework had any connection to the Arlington, or of interest to anyone?

Yes, we should be happy construction workers have jobs, but at what cost to Santa Barbara’s tradition? Should architect Brian Cearnal be pilloried in the City Hall square for the public to administer justice? Should the Historic Landmarks Commission be dismantled and refitted with real design architects? Our Spanish colonial tradition needs to be first understood and then protected at all costs, not as a bag of cute details but as a soulful canvas for humanism and design character. George Washington Smith, where are you?

Although the Independent can use Alma Pueblo’s advertising dollars, we the readers should chastise you for not looking more into the particulars of this deception and not becoming a part of the destruction of Santa Barbara.

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