Jimmy's Oriental Gardens
Paul Wellman

The case of who kidnapped the gold and red wooden sign adorning Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens is now closed: and without much fanfare. A police report was filed yesterday to investigate whodunit, only hours before the current guardian of the property – the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation – found out where the good was stashed. A neighbor and devotee of the now-closed Chinese bar and restaurant discovered the 22-foot sign lying in an adjacent alleyway last week, and decided to lift it for safekeeping.

Jared Brach, spokesman for the Trust, said they noticed the missing sign on Monday, and hunted around for clues before taking the matter to police. “There’s some neon lighting up by the sign that decorates the building, and some of it had been broken. So obviously someone had taken the sign down and it had been done somewhat roughly,” he said. “A few people said they had seen it as late as Sunday afternoon actually next to the building.”

As the Trust’s executive director called in the police report, Brach pulled together a press release asking for help in finding the culprit. “Before I sent that out, [we] got a call from someone in the neighborhood who saw it and took it for safekeeping.” Despite the man’s help, however, the Trust may not see the sign again for a while. “Apparently he’s going to be leaving town for a while,” Brach said. “We’re trying to get this back from him as quickly as possible.”

Jimmy’s, the famous East Canon Perdido restaurant that closed this summer after six decades of service, made the news this week for happier reasons: the Trust secured a $500,000 loan from the City of Santa Barbara to cut down on the amount of money paid out for interest on other, higher-interest loans taken out to purchase the property. The current 5.214 percent interest rate on the city loan will shave off roughly $3,000 from payments, one of which goes to the Montecito Bank & Trust-provided loan that has a 7 percent interest rate. Even still, the Trust’s future dealings with Jimmy’s may leave it approximately $4,000 to $6,000 in the hole each month due to interest rate payments that exceed the amount of revenue taken in from the three housing rentals, which came with the property, as well as the restaurant and bar itself, both of which will be reopened to help finance the endeavor.

Though the options range from opening the bar and restaurant together to opening the bar alone with a rentable banquet room, Brach said a few interested parties have already approached the Trust’s property management company, seemingly more than happy to take on the opportunity. Of course, the tables at Jimmy’s won’t buckle-under from the weight of Mai Tais and eggrolls for too long: The Trust plans to sell the property – bar and all – to the state in about three years for preservation as a museum, joining it with the rest of the El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park. The park’s master plan includes sections dedicated to the history of Asian Americans in Santa Barbara. Until the state takes it, the Trust will drain its coffers to fill the debt.

“It’s a huge burden right now, something that the Trust decided to take on,” said Brach. But it’s a crucial link to Santa Barbara’s past, he added, explaining that Jimmy’s “can help us really tell a story of an element of Santa Barbara that a lot of people don’t know about.”


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