PARC Foundation President Mark Whitehurst, Parks and Recreation Director Jill Zachary, Mayor Randy Rowse, and City Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez celebrate the groundbreaking for the Plaza del Mar Band Shell renovation. | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

When it was first built more than a century ago in 1919, the Plaza del Mar Band Shell opened with a 22-piece band playing in front of 5,000 people. It served as one of the most popular shoreline spots in Santa Barbara, hosting concerts, recitals, speeches, and community events.

Over the years, it has fallen by the wayside, and in 2020 it was deemed unsafe for public use, but now the city is looking to recapture some of that original magic with the groundbreaking of a renovation project that will update the band shell and prepare it for programming as early as next year.

The project has been in the works since the stage was closed off in 2020, but Parks and Recreation Director Jill Zachary said the Plaza del Mar Band Shell has needed an update for decades.

“Work on this band shell has been needed for probably 20 years, and it was really the pandemic that sort of gave that final push of inspiration,” Zachary said at the groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday morning. “We have this facility, yet it’s unusable by the community — we should be doing something about it.”

Historical photos of performances at Plaza del Mar | Credit: Courtesy

After gauging public interest and receiving some seed funding through local foundations, the project gained momentum, and a final plan was approved by the Historic Landmarks Commission in September 2021.

The largest portion of the $1.3 million project was provided through American Rescue Plan Act funds ($800,000), while the city contributed $275,000 through its general fund and Measure C budget, along with another $177,000 through a state parks grant.

The Parks and Recreation Community (PARC) Foundation also provided $55,000 in private funding through donations from the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Ann Jackson Family Foundation, the Tuohy Foundation, Santa Barbara Beautiful, and an undisclosed private donor.

PARC Foundation President Mark Whitehurst said he was glad to work with the city Parks and Recreation Department toward restoring the historic structure. “The PARC foundation is engaged and excited to respond to the groundswell of people who want to see this facility activated,” he said.

The renovation will include structural repairs to the band shell frame, replacement of the roof and wood stage, electrical upgrades to allow for amplified music, and the restoration of the original stage lighting — “which most people didn’t even think existed,” Zachary said.

One of the major focuses of the renovation was to ensure that the stage was fully accessible, and plans include construction of an accessible path and ramp up to the band shell.

Construction will likely carry through the end of the year, but Zachary said she hopes the city will be ready to host a ribbon-cutting sometime in early 2024, just in time to start planning a full slate of programming for spring and summer.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, Mayor Randy Rowse said the project will revive the location, which survived the 1925 earthquake and was once a vibrant community hub.

“The renovation project will rekindle the spirit of the past, enabling the community to come together and celebrate and enjoy converts, theater performances, and cultural gatherings just as they did over a century ago,” Rowse said.

Plans for the Plaza del Mar Band Shell | Credit: Courtesy


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