Credit: Kam Jacoby

I’d been visiting an elderly friend in Lompoc and decided to stop by the Lompoc Museum at 200 South H Street on my way back. I’m very fond of little local museums, and this one is a truly fine haven, lovingly curated. 

Housed in a handsome 1910 Carnegie Library building, its extensive collection of Chumash artifacts in the main hall is a window into the remarkable culture of the area’s indigenous people, and I view it with reverence and awe. Downstairs, there’s an eclectic gallery of exhibits focused on pioneer and natural history, including displays about the flower industry, diatomaceous earth mining, and townspeople of days gone by, looking stern and sepia-toned in antique photographs. There’s a dolphin fossil that’s seven million years old, and a wall-sized diorama with a fifty-year-old taxidermy arrangement of a mountain lion and a pair of albino coyotes in suspended animation for all time, somehow both magnificent and poignant. 

There is all of this and so much more, but except for me and museum director Lisa Renken, the place is empty on this Thursday afternoon.

“Even before the pandemic, Septembers tended to be slow,” Lisa tells me, “but you never know what the day will hold. Last weekend and much of the summer were very busy. The Museum has basically been reopened since July 2021, and we’re finding our way, people are starting to emerge. Lompoc itself is going through big changes.”

That’s exactly what I wanted to learn about. Standing in this beautiful museum surrounded by history, I find myself wondering what’s new. I’ve done interviews with local old-timers, and I’ve met with members of the Lompoc Valley Historical Society, and I know that Lompoc is a city that honors its past. But what have all these stories led to? What’s going on here now?

Stepping outside, I admire the Italian stone pines that were planted by the Boy Scouts in the 1930s along three blocks of H Street, and the Grace Temple Church, gleaming white in the sunlight. It’s a beautiful Lompoc day: breezy, cool, pale blue sky. I know there’s a whole heritage walk I can do, perusing murals, historical buildings, and landmarks, but my mission is to find what’s newly happening.

I wander over to the Lompoc Valley Art Association’s Cypress Gallery at 119 E. Cypress Avenue. Founded in 1994, it’s not exactly new, but it’s vibrant with ever-changing exhibits of work by outstanding local artists. On this occasion, I happen to meet Elizabeth Monks Hack, whose gorgeous oil and mixed media paintings on sewn canvas are currently on display. One abstract painting depicts a blue house with a lemon-yellow roof, and a glorious burst of sky, and I am certain that if I could look at that picture every day, it would be impossible to feel sad. And guess what? Cypress Gallery is having its fall show September 29 through October 30th, with a reception on Sunday, October 30, from 1 to 3 p.m.

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Another of the artists, Beverly Ann Messenger-Harte, whose zen-like work is inspired by bamboo, suggests that I go over to a music store called Certain Sparks, located at 107 South H. I’m happy to oblige, especially if preceded by a stop at the friendly Southside Coffee Shop next door. Southside has long been my go-to place for coffee in Lompoc, and a favorite among locals.

I do enjoy strolling past some of the downtown murals, one of which depicts a zealous group of women yanking a saloon off its foundation in 1883. Lompoc was established as a temperance colony, and fanatical efforts to keep the town dry and respectable were applauded and well documented. There’s a distinct irony in the cannabis excess that has recently inundated the city, but that’s a conversation for another time.

At Certain Sparks, I meet the dynamic Randall Sena, who explains its beginnings as a recording studio that grew to offering music lessons and concert events. In 2017, he helped establish the Certain Sparks Music Foundation to provide scholarships for instruments and lessons to youth in the community, and there’s a monthly open mic event for young people. It’s an inviting space, and I see kids inside who seem at ease, happily practicing. It gives me a hopeful feeling.

While in the neighborhood, I thought I’d say hello to Ben Barrick, of New Lows, across the street at 104 Ocean. New Lows specializes in art, apparel, skateboards, sign making, and custom screen printing. The printing is their bread and butter, but they also host small exhibits and provide space for artists to work. There’s a hip skate graffiti aesthetic and the palpable energy of youthful creativity here. I ask Ben what’s going on with Lompoc. “Lompoc is thriving,” he replies, unequivocally. “I’ve lived here most of my life, and it’s as good as I’ve ever seen it.”

Ben is an insightful observer. He notes that the unbridled proliferation of cannabis dispensaries has had a downside, but he isn’t buying into a lot of negative hype. Crime? He’s pretty sure young people would rather be skateboarders than gang members. He’s seen how food trucks and vendors gather on Food Truck Friday and turn the town into a veritable festival. There are art nights and singer-songwriter nights, and plenty of ideas brewing.

Now I’m on a roll, and I can’t resist checking in with my friend Harvey Green, a resident of Lompoc for forty-two years and a fellow former teacher. Harvey is unusually well acquainted with the city’s past and present. He lives in an 1879 Victorian house built by Lompoc’s founder W.W. Broughton, that he has turned into a popular Airbnb, and he is an enthusiastic ambassador. He tells me about the Lompoc Theater Project, an ambitious renovation of the 1927 movie theater on North H Street, with plans for shows and events. He also mentions the Bodger Trail in the south foothills overlooking the city, with its panoramic views of the Lompoc Valley, just a five-minute drive from downtown. And new leads keep coming up. I am left with the impression that we’ve hardly scratched the surface.

Stay tuned. There’s a lot to love here. Lompoc is changing, and so are we all.

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