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Neighborhood Series: Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation

“Being a good neighbor means always being ready to lend a helping hand whenever necessary, whether it is helping next door or in the broader community, because, at the end of the day, good neighbors' actions support all of us.” - Jessica Sanchez, Donor Relations Officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation.

Previously in the Neighborhood Series, we talked to the Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) and discovered how much their neighbors support them in producing great and enriching performances for the entire community. We also learned that ETC used to rehearse and perform at the Alhecama Theatre, which was recently restored by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP), the operator of El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park. So we decided to ask SBTHP Executive Director Anne Petersen what neighborhood means to them.

“Being a neighbor means being part of a collection of people that share a sense of place and have a shared vested interest in taking care of that place,” said Petersen. “Unlike the words ‘district’ or ‘region,’ the word ‘neighborhood’ has a sense of emotion to it that suggests mutual support and partnership that goes beyond simple economics or politics – it’s personal.”

Although SBTHP lost ETC as a neighbor in 2013, it has many other neighbors like ETC that operate as tenants in its buildings. This is because SBTHP is uniquely an entire neighborhood rooted in the history of place. In 1963, SBTHP was founded with the intent of preserving and restoring El Presidio de Santa Barbara, one of the four military fortresses built by Spain on the California coast. Pearl Chase and other community leaders worked to acquire El Cuartel, which was the only remaining building from the 18th century presidio. In 1968, California State Parks identified the El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Monument, later designated a state historic park. Today, while California State Parks owns much of the property along the perimeter of the quadrangle that was the former El Presidio, SBTHP operates the park, which means in addition to managing historic buildings as museums spaces which are open to the public, they lease out some of the buildings to businesses and restaurants and, therefore, choose their neighbors.

“Our concept of neighborhood is unusual because our neighborhood spans centuries,” said Petersen. “Preserving the history of El Presidio is not simply for the purpose of reliving the past – it is to help us better understand who we are today. The long history of the Presidio neighborhood can help visitors and locals explore complex issues that face our city and country around immigration, diversity, and identity, by understanding the experiences of those who resided here in the past. Many cultures have settled this neighborhood over time, from Spanish to Mexican to Chinese to Japanese and Euro-American. The neighborhood carries the physical imprint of the city’s rich history.”

SBTHP helps connect neighbors from across centuries and the world through educational programming, historic preservation projects, cultural festivals and tours. In doing so, they preserve special places in community memory, including the 1925 Alhecama Theatre built for the Santa Barbara School of the Arts and used later as part of the Adult Education Program and Santa Barbara Junior College, now Santa Barbara City College. SBTHP also generates new memories through partnerships with their neighbors today. For example, they support and partner with park tenants and other neighborhood businesses such as Zaytoon, La Playa Azul Cafe, Three PicklesC’Est Cheese and others. They partner with park tenant Anacapa School to provide a garden internship program for its students. In sharing the history and preserving the culture of the neighborhood, they are also continually searching for new partners and neighbors that embody what El Presidio represents to Santa Barbara County.

“We are excited to announce a new arrangement with the Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara that will allow them to hold concerts throughout the year in the Presidio Chapel in return for supporting our programs and events,” said Petersen. “By welcoming the Folk Orchestra into El Presidio SHP, we hope to extend the reach of the neighborhood and continue to build community.” 

Stay tuned for the next article in the Neighborhood Series as we continue the conversation with Santa Barbara City College, whose campus was formerly located in the Presidio neighborhood, and find out what neighborhood means to them.
North County Headquarters:  (805) 346-6123  |   2625 S. Miller Street, Suite 101, Santa Maria, CA 93455
South County Headquarters:  (805) 963-1873  |  1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101