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Historic Plaza del Mar band shell hits the right note with funding efforts for a full restoration

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The Plaza del Mar band shell in Santa Barbara, once an entertainment landmark for the city, is making a comeback like an aging crooner.

It is located in the park next to the waterfront along Castillo Street at the corner of Shoreline Dr.

The project will restore the structure and include upgrades for different types of public events ranging from live music to open air theater.

It was originally built in 1919, before the Santa Barbara Bowl.

Historical photos show the public gathering there on benches as part of their community entertainment. It was years before radio and TV captured the interest of families at home.

Over time the band shell deteriorated and funds could not keep up with improvements, until now.

The City of Santa Barbara's PARC foundation was part of a coordinated effort to find funds and bring in the necessary supporters to pay for the upcoming work.

PARC say the renovation includes structural repairs to the building frame, replacement of the roof and wood stage, electrical upgrades, restoration of the original stage lighting, and construction of an accessible pathway and ramp leading to the stage. The renovation will restore the venue's long-standing tradition of hosting concerts, performances, festivals, and other cultural gatherings.

Funding for the project includes $800,000 in federal funding from the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA), $275,000 in City funds (General Fund and Measure C), a $177,000 grant from the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and $55,500 in private funding, donated through the PARC Foundation.  Private funding includes $25,000 from the Santa Barbara Foundation, $10,000 from the Ann Jackson Family Foundation, $10,000 from the Tuohy Foundation, $10,000 from Santa Barbara Beautiful, and $500 from a private donor.

The site is part of the greater Pershing Park property which sits below Santa Barbara City College and next to the main ball field for the Championship Santa Barbara Foresters baseball team.

Speaking at a special event to kick off the work, Mayor Randy Rowse said, "if you look back at the historical photos of this entire area and the Plaza del Mar and what the waterfront was like before the harbor was there,  it's pretty cool that we have this little icon to reach back on."

The new project came alive during the COVID crisis when the public came outside for fresh air,  recreation and these areas were back in big demand.
Parks and Recreation Director Jill Zachary said, "we saw an amazing uptick in the use of our parks and open spaces and increasing activities in the great outdoors. So it gave us the inspiration that now was the time to move forward with this project."


Mark Whitehurst with the  Parks and Recreation Community (PARCFoundation 
said there was area support, "and neighbors, local businesses who wanted to see this park activated and that fits perfect with good music and drama as well as the opera. "

An author and historian who has documented the bandshell here, sees its grand return.

Betsy Green said, "a year and a half from now when we re commemorating the earthquake the 1925 earthquake  It would be a great place to have a jazz band to come in and play tunes from 1925."  

Reading from a list of songs from that era, they included "Sweet Georgia Brown,  St. Louis Blues, Tea for Two, If you Knew Suzie Like I Knew Suzie, Yes, Sir that's my Baby."

The project could be done possibly by the end of the year.

More information can be found at SantaBarbaraCA.gov/BandShell.


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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.

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