The onetime Second Baptist Church, located at 26 East Gutierrez Street, was designated by the Historic Landmarks Commission last week as a structure of merit in large measure because it was one of the first two Black churches in Santa Barbara.
“For … Black Americans, the church represented a space of black autonomy — spiritual, social, political — and as such it became a powerful institution,” wrote Nicole Hernandez, City Hall’s architectural historian. “They represented spaces of racial autonomy and freedom, where African Americans/Black Americans came together by choice and strengthened ties of mutuality.”
Although the church was founded as a congregation in 1910, it would not be built as a structure until 1912. And it would not be named Second Baptist Church until April 1924. It would be wiped out in 1925 by the earthquake that leveled much of Santa Barbara and would be rebuilt.
Hernandez hinted at some of the tensions church leaders had to endure in her report. In 1916, church pastor Reverend Dr. H. B. Thomas and his wife moved into a home across Gutierrez Street from the church only to have their garage go up in flames — and their car with it — in a fire city officials suspected was arson. Thomas would be one of the first organizers of Santa Barbara’s chapter of the NAACP.
By 1998, Hernandez wrote, church services drew 60-70 people, and in 2000, the church relocated to 1032 East Mason Street. Plans to develop multi-unit affordable housing on-site, however, caused the church to implode financially, and Second Baptist closed its doors for good in 2016. In the meantime, its original site on Gutierrez Street became the Church of Skatan — one of the city’s better-known skateboard shops — for a while.
For the structure of merit designation to stick, it must be approved by the City Council.