Credit: Nick Welsh

There may be new life in store for the dilapidated but invitingly designed public band shell located at the city’s Plaza del Mar Park at the corner of Castillo Street and Cabrillo Boulevard. The Santa Barbara City Council quietly authorized the expenditure of $92,000 for new architectural and engineering plans to bring the band shell — originally built in 1919 and declared a city landmark in 1990 — up to snuff as a possible outdoor performance venue. City Parks czar Jill Zachary said COVID has accentuated the need for an outdoor performance space.

The band shell stage — designed by noted Santa Barbara architect Winsor Soule to be big enough for 22 musicians to play on and for 2,000 people to watch — has fallen into a state of perpetual disrepair in recent years. It needs a new roof, repairs to the façade, and a new electrical system, and it is far behind code on issues of access. Zachary estimated the total price tag could be as high as $500,000, though no formal estimate exists. She said she hopes to fund the project with grants.

In recent years, the band shell — an underutilized landmark located right across Cabrillo from Los Baños pool, another landmark — has functioned mostly as a gathering site for homeless people. Today, a chain blocks access to the stairs to the stage, and the band shell itself is ringed with not one but two fences, one made of plastic and the other a metal chain-link barrier. Signs warn, “Danger, Keep Off.”

Once upon a time, the band shell was the site of outdoor musical performances, speeches, and community gatherings. Zachary said she’s heard from several music organizations that expressed interest in reviving the tradition, one being the Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara.

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