Overlooked Beauty - A Real Redemption Story
by Billy Goodnick
Ed recently posted my Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful awards, heralding the chokingly hideous things some Santa Barbarans do with their plants. It's my annual exercise in shining a light on those who inflict their neglect on our aesthetic sensibilities.
I think this is a necessary public service and perform it proudly. No apologies for abrading the feelings of the perpetrators—someone has to even the score. I'm not writing this column to assuage feelings of guilt; my conscience is clear and I sleep quite well knowing that I'm striking a blow for sensible aesthetics. But perhaps the Libra in me feels a need to post some yang to balance out October's yin. Besides, it's so easy to mock the malformed—I needed a challenge. Silver Nikon CoolPix S10 and Biff the Wonder Spaniel's leash in hand, we headed downtown one recent fall-feeling morn, hoping to find some restorative images.
Late October being less than a riotous bouquet, my eye was drawn to architecture and details. Gracing the corner of West Islay and State St., this beautifully balanced bit of architecture just feels so right on its site. What I like most is the squareness of the composition. The proportions evoke a feeling of permanence and weight, while the detailing breaths life and lightness into the façade. When the fountain is working, the frontage sparkles
Near Anacapa and East Islay, a towering Floss Silk tree caught the early light. It's in someone's back yard, obscured by wires and buildings. The exotic, tropical display of this Brazilian native reminds us that we're not in Kansas, Toto. Actually, we never were in Kansas, unless you count that unscheduled landing on the way back from So. Philly.
Not much to shoot as we wend our way down Anacapa, drawn inexorably into downtown on a quest for audaciously deep coffee. Yes, decaf; I promise. Don't want to defy that court order. I just need that intensity of flavor - not the jet-fuel jag. Biff and I found ourselves at the newly opened Jeannine's at La Arcada. They serve Peet's (odd—so does the new Peet's on State Street, just below Old Navy), my benchmark for a respectable cuppa.
A few steps west I notice my arch adversary, the ubiquitous, tediously banal impatiens, growing in an exquisite wall-mounted bronze planter. My mind reels. Readers and my Adult Ed students know my disdain for plants that can be purchased off a rack in front of the supermarket. But this comely combo of red and pink blossoms in the classic metal vessel raises the composition to the level of sublime. I'm getting soft.
Heading back up State St., Biff intensely guided by olfactory bulbs, we're coming into the mother lode—fine art, architectural detailing and our paralyzingly awesome natural beauty in the surrounding hills.
First up, in the display window at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art gift shop are these sucking candy-colored glass flowers. The window bubbles with warm hues; each petal looking like it was inspired by Jolly Rancher.
A few steps forward and across the street is what might be the finest terracotta-embellished façade in town. 1129 State Street—the 70s premiere live music venue—has undergone an extensive renovation and it was affirming to see that this historic finery was still intact, glowing in golden morning light.
Just in front of the building is my favorite temporary work in the State of the Art Gallery, the public art display gracing our retail corridor. The form is at once industrial and organic. It conjures so many images—barrel cactus, pillow lava, bubbles being blown in a glass of chocolate milk. Better to have too many metaphors than a single resigned "what the hell's that ‘spose ta be?"
Just a few steps more and we're looking down east down Anapamu, appreciating the gift created when "civilized" palms, geologic upthrusts and native vegetation collide. Ah, nature!
Biff wants to keep moving, but I'm on a roll. More images to capture. Looking back down State Street and glancing up, the overhang of the newer museum wing reveals some very cool detailing that had escaped notice for years. I wish I had paid better attention in my architectural history class so I could describe what's going on here, but the picture will be worth a thousand words. The portico, coffered ceiling and column capitols are far more richly decorated that most of our Mediterranean style edifices. If only my office opened out to this rich space.
"Mush!" The Arlington is being bathed in light and the secondary details of the upper curves register with me. I've looked at the building hundreds of times, but when I have a camera in my hand my parietal lobe enters discovery mode. It's moments like these that make me wish I had been a fly on the wall while the architects were brainstorming the fundamentals of this stately icon.
The theater's neighbor ain't too shabby neither. I remember seeing an article about the penthouse (can you have a penthouse on the second floor?) and its owner. Very exotic taste and impeccably appointed interior. But other than a glimpse of the balcony, I'll be content to enjoy the asymmetry of these two baubles.
The gated open space at Micheltorena is one of downtown's treasures. Originally bestowed upon us by Home Savings "in the day" I have no qualms about it being closed to the public. Just to have it well maintained and see and hear splashing water is enough. Thanks again to whomever had the foresight to create this space.
Almost home, I had to snap one more shot. I love the restraint and color combo of the Presidio Motel's new sign.
It's affirming to look for the good and beautiful around us and too easy to focus on what's ugly, mean, and wrong, then bitch about it. Affirmation and optimism are the rewards for seeking out what is good around us. It is evident that I'm not alone in keeping my eye attuned for the built and natural beauty of Santa Barbara, as evidenced by the photos sent in by Ed's readers. I invite you to barrage him with whatever brings you a bit of joy.
One more bit of light - the new First Family will be bringing a puppy to the White House.
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Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.
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