Yogi Berra once said: “You should always go to other peoples’ funerals — or else they won’t go to yours.” I thought of that quote recently when I read about the upcoming memorial evening for Hal Conklin scheduled for July 21 — the same night as the Giants-Dodgers game I had purchased non-refundable tickets for only hours earlier. (Sorry, Hal, I’ll understand.)
I have been thinking a lot about Hal since his passing, though. It’s hard to go anywhere in Santa Barbara without seeing something he left behind. I first met him during his first term on the City Council, when I was a reporter for a local radio station. His constant verbal jousting with Gus Chavalas created some great radio moments — but he was best known then as the man who had led the campaign to rebuild Stearn’s Wharf after a fire had nearly destroyed it. Without Hal, the wharf may well have been torn down.
I was elected to the council at the same time Hal was elected to his second term, and we served the next 12 years together. During that time, the council tackled the Central City Redevelopment Project (the creation of Paseo Nuevo), the Crosstown Freeway (remember the lights?), and the desalination plant, among many other things, including a major downzoning of the entire city. Hal’s work behind the scenes to make all of it possible cannot be overstated nor underappreciated.
But it is Hal’s work with Santa Barbara’s arts community that will truly live on. It was Hal who unearthed an unused model that sculptor Herbert Bayer had created and long forgotten. The odd-looking square rainbow was, frankly, not something that I supported placing in a prime location on the waterfront — but Hal apparently knew better. The Chromatic Gate has joined the Mission and Courthouse among the most photographed of Santa Barbara’s monuments!
And the 1200 and 1300 blocks of State Street should definitely be dubbed the “Conklin Arts District.” It was Hal who envisioned such a district, and Hal who worked with Bruce Corwin and Metropolitan Theatres to oversee the incredible restorations of the Granada and Arlington theatres toward that end. It is here that Hal’s spirit will truly live on. In fact, as Hal himself observed on more than one occasion: “Conklin’s organ rises nightly at the Arlington!” If that’s not living forever, what is?