Historians Lobby to Protect and Preserve Black Santa Barbara Church

St. Paul’s AME Church Has Stood at 502 Olive Street For More Than a Century

St. Paul’s AME Church has stood at 502 Olive Street for more than a century. | Credit: Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation

In response to a list of demands given by the regional chapter Black Lives Matter, specifically that the city protect landmarks of historical significance to the local black community, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation is lobbying city authorities to include St. Paul’s AME Church on its official list.

“There had been an African Methodist Episcopal church on the site of 502 Olive Street since 1906, when it was the only structure on the entire block, and Olive Street was known as Canal Street,” the Trust wrote in a prepared statement. “It was built by the local African American congregation to serve as a house of worship for its members.

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“By 1930, the Church, possibly a newer building constructed after the 1925 earthquake, had taken on the form we recognize today — a larger and more substantial building with an attached dwelling,” the trust goes on. “This important African American resource has held its ground and served its community for over 100 years, and deserves recognition for the history it represents, in addition to its beautiful architecture. The time to designate it is now.”

The trust recently sent a letter, signed by Executive Director Anne Peterson and Board President Debby Aceves, to the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission with its formal request. “Is this the only building deserving of recognition?” the trust asked. “Not by a long shot. We have much more work to do. The field of historic preservation and museums have not always been at the forefront of diversity, equity and inclusion. We need to improve, and we begin by looking inward.… As an organization we will continue to improve our service to the community of Santa Barbara and to lift up its complex, sometimes disheartening, and often heroic stories until all the voices, past and present, are able to be heard.”

The trust said it’s now working with its colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which has created a new online education tool called Talking About Race.

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