Willy Gilbert’s In Memoriam for Bob Lovejoy caught me by utter surprise because I had not heard the horrible news of his death. As retired CEO of the S.B. Trust for Historic Preservation, I rate Bob as the Number One tenant I had dealings with in my 35-year tenure. Just a great person to work with, a true hero of the Presidio neighborhood.
A little history: when Tommy Chung decided to sell Jimmy’s around 2006, the Santa Barbara Trust made an offer on the building and Tommy took it, even though there were higher ones. The Trust then pieced together various low-interest loans from local foundations, and even then it was a stretch on the Trust’s finances. Next came the Great Recession, and the Trust faced serious financial challenges with its investments in free fall and with a steep mortgage to service. The only option was to hope the state would purchase the property and add it to the Presidio State Park. I arranged a meeting with the director of State Parks in Sacramento, and Tommy came along to pitch the project. Some funds were found, but not enough to purchase the property.
In the meantime, as the Great Recession deepened, the new tenant in the restaurant failed to pay his rent and was given notice. He in turn locked himself in the restaurant and proceeded to do severe damage to the interior including ripping out wires.
Enter Bob Lovejoy: He was willing to take over all of Jimmy’s, including the bar, but the Trust only allowed him to lease the restaurant, retaining possession of the bar as a possible museum space. Once we had the lease in place, Bob was faced with taking over a place that was in truly bad shape. He never came to me and said he wanted to re-do the lease — he just went ahead and did an outstanding job rehabilitating the restaurant area into Three Pickles. And paid his rent.
The Great Recession got even worse, and the Trust Management Committee chaired by Elliot Brownlee told me to lease the bar space. Again, Bob Lovejoy to the rescue.
The Trust placed very restrictive controls over the interior space. Bob was undaunted and proceeded to re-create the bar as it was during Jimmy’s time in the 1950s. He extended the bar to its original length, repaired the bar canopy, restored and re-upholstered the booths and bar stools, purchased light fixtures like the originals, purchased artwork that had hung in the bar, and much more. Without question his tenant improvements were a first-rate act of historic restoration. And, yes, he paid rent after the bar opened. The truth of the matter is he helped save the Santa Barbara Trust at a challenging financial time. Plus, State Parks, led by Director Ruth Coleman, came through with the funds to purchase the property.
Bob did one other thing worth noting: A tile contractor by trade, he installed gratis the tile plaque commemorating the 2014 visit of Prince Felipe (now King of Spain) to Santa Barbara on the rebuilt west wall of the Presidio. When I left the Trust in 2016, Bob even did a farewell party in the Pickle Room at his expense for me and some of my employees and friends. I hope the current board of the Trust honors Bob posthumously with the George and Vivian Obern Preservation Award. He helped save the Trust financially, did a brilliant job of bringing back the bar, and was one of the finest people I have had the pleasure of knowing.