James O’Mahoney
Paul Wellman

James O’Mahoney, owner of two iconic Funk Zone museums ​— ​the Santa Barbara Surf Museum and simply The Museum ​— ​is worried his curatorial days are numbered because the property he’s been renting the past 33 years has just been sold. Ray Mahboob, a Santa Barbara native and real estate investor, cleared escrow this week, buying the 10,000-square-foot 16 Helena Avenue property from a Castagnola family trust for $5.6 million in cash.

Mahboob’s timing could not have been better; with the much anticipated Entrada de Santa Barbara development at the bottom of State Street a year away from completion and a new children’s museum going up next door, real estate values in that part of town are primed to explode. Mahboob, who also owns the properties housing Forever 21 and the 99 Cents Only store, said he has no immediate plans for the 16 Helena property nor any desire to do any development there. “I have no ideas,” he said. “None whatsoever. I just wanted to diversify.” As for O’Mahoney and his two museums, Mahboob said, “I don’t want him to leave.”

O’Mahoney, a surfer and onetime skateboard magazine publisher, imbues Gidget-era surf culture with a breathless enthusiasm in his surf museum, and in the other a mouth-watering display of cool, weird collectables, many of which hark back to edgier aspects of Santa Barbara’s past. O’Mahoney leases the entire building for $6,200 a month and underwrites the cost of his two museums by subleasing to four enterprises, including Segway tours, a surf shop, and a skate shop.

Mahboob said he will charge $6,700 a month rent and allow O’Mahoney to sublease to two enterprises. As long as the neighborhood remains a noisy construction zone, O’Mahoney worries he won’t be able to find tenants willing to pay the freight, particularly if he can’t offer anything more than a month-to-month lease. Equally problematic is O’Mahoney’s vast collection of “guy stuff” ​— ​spilling over a labyrinthine warren of rooms ​— ​that he’s spent decades accumulating. “I guess this is what progress looks like,” he said, adding, “Hey, man, I’m grateful for the 33 years I got here.”


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