The magic word in Santa Barbara has always been “paseo.” It’s still that way, just more so. An extended bike lane designed to connect the city’s Westside to its Eastside via Sola Street has been dubbed a “paseo” for purposes of city planning. This Thursday, an exuberant clutch of downtown movers and shakers — bedecked with gold-plated shovels — assembled together in the mysterious nether region between the Granada Parking Garage and beside the Granada Theatre to declare that area a “paseo” too. Not only that, they each unearthed a pile of dirt with ceremony to mark the beginning of a transformation of a space that for more than 40 years has qualified as neither fish nor fowl.
There was an almost giddy sweetness to the gathering, reflecting, perhaps, the great relief that those in attendance — both participants and reporters — felt at being in the actual presence of fellow homo sapiens as opposed to a Zoomified facsimile. Or it could have reflected the ridiculous degree of difficulty involved in unifying the back-of-house public-private space into a unified purpose: so that large buses bearing even larger musical ensembles can deposit the show-biz infrastructure necessary to put on their really big shows.
If all this seems too obvious and boringly basic to justify Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo, City Administrator Paul Casey, and a host of Granada Theatre potentates swinging gilded shovels, bear in mind one unbudgeable scientific reality: This is Santa Barbara, where nothing is ever simple.
The real estate in question, it turns out, had been carved up into seven separate micro-parcels with seven separate owners. Not all saw their interests aligning in the same direction. Getting them rowing in the same direction took no less than 10 years of hard work. Had the ghost of Mike Towbes — former executive of the Bank of Montecito — not come back from the dead to twist a few arms, it’s doubtful the deal could have been pulled off. Or so it was intimated at the press conference.
Towbes, it turns out, was a driving force behind efforts to transform the Granada from a rundown movie house well past its prime into the towering testament to music and art it is today. Along the way, City Hall sank umpteen millions into the reimagination of the Granada in hopes of anchoring a thriving culture district. Prior to that, it had spent a few umpteen millions more building the Granada Parking Garage. Again, all this was to create the infrastructure necessary to the emergence of a financially successful arts district.
Putting everything in historic context was Brian Cearnal, by far Santa Barbara’s single most ubiquitous contemporary architect, who also did the work on the new paseo. Cearnal recounted that when he moved to Santa Barbara back in 1980, the alleyway leading from State Street into the parking lot, where the new paseo will be, was skinny, dark, and more than a little spooky. To the extent any rain had fallen, he noted, water tended to pool into puddles. A “plethora of puddles,” he added for emphasis. Now — or soon — the skinny alleyway will be canopied with colorful overhead lights. And along one side of the alley wall, there will be an eight-foot-high mural celebrating musical and artistic expression in brightly colored hues. That mural will extend about 150 feet from the mouth of the alley. The main purpose of all this is clearly more infrastructural and functional than decorative. But the space will feel infinitely safer and more inviting, Cearnal added, once work on the paseo is completed sometime this summer.
At that time, some of those attending this Thursday’s hardhat event suggested they might celebrate with a martini. Given the abundance of restaurants nearby, it was suggested that it might take more than one martini to adequately celebrate the event.
After all, it took 10 years to get to this point.
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