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Lobero Theatre (March 19, 2013)

Paul Wellman

Lobero Theatre (March 19, 2013)


Leave It Be

Don’t Trade Architecture for Food Carts


Wednesday, March 13, 2013
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The Lobero Theatre is a landmark and is so designated by the state and the city. As reported in The Santa Barbara Independent, the Lobero Theater Foundation has embarked on a fundraising campaign to fund a needed, extensive updating of this 1924 historic building. These projects include heating, air conditioning, new seats, a larger women’s restroom. A level terrace surrounded by a seating wall at the front entrance is proposed.

It is this terrace, called an “esplanade,” accessed by a flight of steps from Canon Perdido Street, that I wish to bring to public attention. As one who has been honored by this journal as a Local Hero for my advocacy in saving Santa Barbara landmarks, I must speak out.

This new design feature will remove the 1924 brick-paved sloping entrance to the Lobero Theatre, which is identified in the 2012 Historic Structures Report prepared for the Historic Landmarks Commission as one of the “character-defining features of the property.” The reason given for constructing this walled esplanade is to provide a level surface for a wine bar and food carts, for use during intermissions.

Kellam de Forest
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Kellam de Forest

This esplanade, because it’s elevated, is aloof and detached from the street, and will make the building and its function seem removed and exclusive as well. The sloping brick plaza, in contrast, serves as public space that connects the building to the street. The message is one of welcome and inclusion.

The Encore Lobero campaign claims that the esplanade was part of the original design-intent of the architect, George Washington Smith. A plan showing an entrance accessed by steps was found in the architectural archives of UCSB. Obviously, this plan was rejected, probably by Smith himself.

Mr. Smith had been hired in 1922 to remodel the 1873 1,300-seat theater, which had been purchased by the recently established Community Arts Association that encompassed all the arts, drama, music, dance, fine arts architecture, and even gardening. The Drama Branch, which was already producing a dozen plays a year, needed a theater of its own. At first, the Community Arts Association thought it could restore the old theater. A structural engineer hired to examine the adobe brick building declared the structure unsound, and it would be impossible to make it safe.

Smith, who had already drawn plans for the 1,300-seat-building remodel, was asked by the Association to change his design. The Drama Committee wanted a smaller structure, one in which the whole community could participate. It did not want a venue that would be in competition with the then extant 1,100-seat Potter Hotel Theater on the corner of State and Montecitio Streets. His design for a smaller, 680-seat theater, set back from Canon Perdido Street, was accepted. It is what is on the ground today, a Santa Barbara landmark.

The Lobero Theater, a California Historic Landmark
Click to enlarge photo

Antandrus

The Lobero Theater, a California Historic Landmark

The sloping brick terrace entrance was, I believe, Smith’s decision. Following Andalusian models, most of the front entrances to buildings designed by Smith have the entrance level with the driveway or walkway. Examples are Casa del Herrero and the News-Press building. Also influencing Smith’s decision, perhaps, was the need for an unobstructed, large open plaza for opening night celebrations, which could accommodate floats, large floral displays, and searchlights. The first celebration, in 1924, was the start of Santa Barbara’s annual fiesta.

My father, landscape architect Lockwood de Forest, was brought in to provide an appropriate landscape treatment. I was told this growing up. Supporting my memory is an unsigned and undated plan found in the Lockwood de Forest collection at the UC Berkeley Environmental Design Archives in a file titled “Lobero Theater.” They show the brick walkway plaza and the olive trees labeled in my father’s hand. My father used olive trees extensively, believing that the olive’s gray-green color best augmented Smith’s Spanish Revival architecture.

The Lobero’s external space is a significant cultural landscape feature. Why features by a nationally famous architect and landscape architect need to be destroyed all for a food cart at intermission needs explanation. The Encore Lobero plans will compromise a 90-year-old landmark. Another piece of Santa Barbara heritage will be lost. I realize that there are Americans with Disability Act regulations, but with all the architects and landscape architects in Santa Barbara surely a way can be found to preserve George Washington Smith’s brick-plaza slope and Lockwood de Forest’s olive trees. Join me and others interested in preserving Santa Barbara’s landmarks by writing Doug Wood, the president of the Lobero Theatre Foundation, 33 East Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara CA 93101.

This article was amended on March 15 to correct the name of the Lobero Theatre Foundation (not Association).

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

Thank you for this most educational article Mr. DeForest, restoration most certainly is not remodelling. Before people start tinkering with historical landmarks attentions and money could be better spent repairing the sidewalks in this town that are in clear violation of the ADA.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 13, 2013 at 5:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm not going to comment on the ridiculous application of ADA specifications, particularly in CA, otherwise my head will explode.
Beautifully written. Marvelously informative. A joy to read. I appreciate your effort and agree.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
March 14, 2013 at 7:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

keep the charming brick plaza and olive trees! Thank you for this article. I attend the Lobero fairly often and will write Doug Wood. work around ADA stuff.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 14, 2013 at 9:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Sorry, but you can't just ignore (aka, "work around") the ADA "stuff". If you don't like the impact of the legislation, talk to your legislators. As for the "public space" that is the brick patio, I've never seen anyone in that space that wasn't there specifically for an event at the Lobero. As wonderful as the idea sounds, this is not a public meeting space used by the general public that will suddenly be lost by this improvement.

If the current configuration was created to accommodate floats, floral displays and spotlights, as you've opined, it is clearly no longer needed for those purposes. I appreciate the and support the desire to maintain the general characteristics of the space, but you've failed to provide any meaningful reason to oppose the current plan besides your assumptions about what Smith may or may not have proposed back then and why. Moreover, just because some of the original proposals presented back then weren't suitable for the times is no reason to mandate we be prevented from revisiting them for eternity irrespective of the reason for doing so.

WilliamMunny (anonymous profile)
March 15, 2013 at 1 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Time to set up floral displays etc on that section. Again there are sidewalks that are more flagrant violations of the ADA than anything at the Lobero. Address those first dear philanthropists.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 15, 2013 at 2:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Why even waste our time and energy objecting to this? Why work hard to offer good reasons why we object to this?

They are GOING to do it ANYWAY.

That's the way things work in this area: the offensive idea is "proposed" so the "stakeholders" can have a "visioning meeting" and offer "input" for which we, the public (suckers) "stakeholders" are copiously thanked.

Then, they do it ANYWAY.

It doesn't matter in the least what people feel or think; if someone/something with power wants something, it gets shoved down our throats, along with the bill, and that's it. If you choke on it or fight it, you're "anti-progress".

It's all ultimately the waste product of a male bovine's digestive process...

Holly (anonymous profile)
March 15, 2013 at 6:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree with de Forest. If there is a real need for food and wine carts, which I doubt, I'm sure that some portions along the outer borders of the current terrace could be levelled without ruining the whole thing. Or people could just go to ChickFilA :-)

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
March 17, 2013 at 1:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Constructing things that are unnecessary and dreadful looking seems to be an obsession with our local institutions. Take a drive through the hodge podge of buildings, halls and research centers on the UCSB campus. No master plan, no uniformity, no charm whatsoever, just a collection of architectural styles and fads conjured up by high priced designers. The horribly over-sized looking and yet claustrophobic new airport terminal building is another sad example. Why would anyone design a public space with a very low ceiling and then paint it a dark color to magnify the problem? Oh, and let's hide away a public restaurant on the second floor so nobody without a boarding pass can enjoy it and then seal all the windows so we don't capitalize on the weather and beauty of the area. Are half-baked plans like this the best this profession can achieve?

emptynewsroom (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2013 at 10:25 a.m. (Suggest removal)

A variety of architectural styles is actually way cooler and aesthetically pleasing than the bland, mind numbing sameness of every building looking the same. In SB's case, white "adobe" and red tile.
The UCSB campus has never looked better in fact, much better than when it only consisted of building appearing to have been "designed by Albert Speer" to quote the late Robert Hughes on UCSB's old look.

Conformity is for sheep.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2013 at 11:07 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Over the years I've wondered one many occasions whether Pearl Chase intended that SB architecture would forever be restricted to the style she preferred following the earthquakes in the 20's that leveled most of the downtown area, or if she would have preferred architectural styles and construction materials that post-dated her and precluded her opinions. It's particularly relevant now that red tile roofs and stucco adobe imitations are more reminiscent of imitations of Orange and LA County tract developments than of early mission construction

14noscams (anonymous profile)
March 23, 2013 at 5:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's almost cult like the devotion to one long deceased woman's architectural vision of Santa Barbara.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 23, 2013 at 5:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ken_Volok: And the cult is based on a person who was creative and innovative enough to have established a personal legacy of her style, rather than emulating existing icons, and probably would have respected these qualities in others. If Pearl Chase was an egomaniac who had a desire to be memorialized through the architectural style she preferred, it hasn't been recognized by local historians. SB's policy is a tribute to a person who was not a "stick in the mud" by adopting "stuck in the mud" architectural design guidelines.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
March 27, 2013 at 9:21 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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