“Conservation happens here, from genes to ecosystems,” proclaims the lettering on a wall in the newly opened John C. Pritzlaff Conservation Center at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. The center was officially opened with a grand ceremony on July 13, ending a seven-year effort to replace areas of the Garden lost to the 2009 Jesusita Fire.
The 90-year-old garden, located in Mission Canyon, occupies over 78 acres of land and serves as an important ground for conservation and scientific research. Among its fixtures was the century-old Gane House. Garden officials were planning to restore the historic building when it was razed by the fire.
A new plan was formed to replace the Gane House. The campaign, named Seed the Future, sought donations to build a new conservation center in place of the destroyed building. Now finished, the site is named for former Arizona State Senator the late John C. Pritzlaff, Jr., whose daughter, Reverend Ann Symington, was present at the ceremony.
Seed the Future exceeded its goal by raising almost $15 million. The conservation center overlooks a wide, scenic view of greenery. The two-story building features educational placards along the interior walls, providing information on the different plants found in the area.
Dr. Ed Birch, co-chair of the campaign, called the late Pritzlaff, Jr. a “worldy figure” who had loved the Garden during his life. “Sometimes you name buildings for people who gave a lot of money with no real interest,” he said, “but there’s a wonderful legacy here that will honor Mr. Pritzlaff.”
Also in attendance was First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who served on the Board of Supervisors when it approved the center’s construction. He said he visited the Garden often with his family and praised the fact that no development had intruded upon the existing plant life in the area. “It reminds you of what we could lose if we don’t take steps to preserve and protect these kind of gardens and native plants in our ecosystem,” said Carbajal.
Speaking at the ceremony, Symington said building the center was a “family effort.” She said her father was a passionate gardener and “gloried” in giving vegetables and flowers to people. Symington’s husband, former Arizona Governor Fife Symington, was chairperson of the Garden’s Board of Trustees, before resigning in 2010.
Dr. Steve Windhager, Executive Director at the Garden since 2010, said getting the entitlement to build the structure was a controversial process. Opposition to the building stemmed from misgivings about traffic repercussions in Mission Canyon, Windhager said. He was thus surprised at the positive response from the community in donating to the campaign. Representatives from community organizations in Mission Canyon, who Windhager said had initially opposed the building of the center, attended the ceremony.
The Garden plans to move forward in finding new ways to promote conservation, Windhager said. “We won’t rest on our laurels at any point,” he said. “It’s time to look to the future and see what we can do next.”