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Miracle on San Andres Street
updated: Jun 05, 2009, 12:00 AM

Thoughts From the Garden of Ed

Miracle on San Andres Street
by Billy Goodnick

Note: There is a photo essay of this project at my Flickr site

It took about ten years, but a minor miracle has occurred in Santa Barbara's Westside neighborhood. A sliver of open space has been wedged into a densely packed residential area. In a built-out town like this, that's a big deal.

Before December 2008, if you took the ten-block walk down San Andres St., between Mission and Carrillo, you would have been surrounded by a continuous parade of houses, apartments and commercial buildings. If you take that same walk today, prepare yourself for a pleasant surprise when you reach E. Victoria. There's a new "pocket park" gracing the east side of the street. It's not like any park you've seen.

I lived a block from the eventual site of this park shortly after I moved to Santa Barbara in the mid-70s. The Westside was a good fit for me after living in the sprawling San Fernando Valley for most of my youth. My new neighborhood felt like an insulated village within the city, close to downtown but with a character of its own. I had all the basics: supermarket, medical clinic, hardware store, bakery, barber; you get the idea.

The miracle of which I write has to do with creating new public open space in a crowded neighborhood, then imbuing that space with a spirit of environmental awareness, imagination and art. Even more mind-boggling is how two privately owned parcels and an unused street right-of-way could be located in just the right place, then be acquired and "grafted" onto an existing park.

A Park by Any Other Name...

This little slice of paradise doesn't have its own name. Within the Parks and Recreation Department, it's called the "Bohnett Park Expansion Project." Someone needs to come up with something better-contest, Ed? The reason for the name is that the new facility is, indeed,
connected to the original Bohnett Park that sits in the former flood plain of Mission Creek. What is now the back of the park was once the bank of the original creek, which was channelized further east after the construction of the freeway.

It is the influence of the remnant creek that gives Bohnett Park, and now the new project, their woodsy, native character. In fact, the impetus for the design came from the idea of bringing a glimpse of nature to people on the busy commercial street just up the bank.

Why a House?

Capturing the essence of the new park requires a bit of pretending. You'll need to pretend that the structure that dominates the park is a working-class craftsman style house, when actually it's a lot of hollow steel tubing arranged to look like a porch, trellis, gable roof and fireplace. You'll be expected to pretend that the sinuous tongue of turquoise rubber chips is a creek that flows from the house and through the park.
When you encounter the exquisitely crafted miniature bronze dock, dory, and treasure chest along the "creek" or the mine tunnel, railroad tracks and "Mr. Toad's doorway" set into sandstone boulders, you'll need to engage your imagination. That's what the students from Harding School did at the December 2008 ribbon cutting, concocting legends to explain the unusual art that is scattered through the park.

Speaking of Harding School kids, about a dozen of them took part in a summer art and education workshop co-sponsored by the City and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Working with the talented artist and teacher, Tina Villadolid, these kids studied the ecology of local creeks and the design concepts behind Persian art. Then they designed and glazed ceramic tiles that now depict the decorative tile "rug" in the house's "living room." Their artwork depicts the flora and fauna that are living in the creek below.

That's a Park?

This is not your typical city park. In fact, I'm still not sure how we made it to the finish line. When I received the assignment to develop a design for this new space,
all I knew for sure was that I wanted to bring the presence of Old Mission Creek to the attention of locals who were passing along this busy urban corridor. And I need to give myself credit for hiring Van Atta Associates (VAA), local landscape architects with a reputation for thoughtful, artistic, environmentally sensitive and creative designs.

The idea of building a park that mimicked many of the neighborhood residences was the brainchild of Lane Goodkind, who was my project manager at VAA. He had a generous conceptual design budget that allowed him to do some research and dreaming before getting into the nitty gritty. After offering my thoughts about the significance of the creek, he shared a fun sketch of a house sitting in the middle of the lot, surrounded by trees, with a creek running right through the house. Something like this…

Knowing that the Westside is the home of many low income families living in crowded homes, he declared, "This will be the house that many in the neighborhood will never own." Perhaps a bit of an overstatement, but I appreciated the symbolism and saw the opportunity to create a unique, visually playful space for the neighborhood.

The first round of drawings were warmly received by the neighborhood advisory committee. They loved the unique sense of place that would be created. One attendee appeared choked up, saying, "It's wonderful that you would do something like this in our neighborhood."

Maybe you can come by for a visit and let me know what you think? What I'm really hoping for is a few respectful, mature locals to "adopt" the park and make it part of their daily routine. "Ownership" is what keeps parks from becoming a magnet for bad behavior.

It's a great place to let the kids explore. There's also an active playground just down the steps in the original Bohnett Park.

A few acknowledgments are in order: Lynda Bohnett was my point of contact for a generous donation from the very extended Bohnett family - they donated $27,000 to fund all of the children's art. I mentioned Tina's role in the tile rug project. The bronzes are not to be believed-wear something loose fitting, because you'll be down on your knees absorbing the playful detailing of Michael McMillen's achievement. McMillen is an artist of international renown, working in both miniature scale and creating environmental installations in galleries and museums.

Though Lane Goodkind and Susan Van Atta got the project rolling, Lane left SVA to start his own firm. The project was put in the very capable hands of Guillermo Gonzalez who brought his own brilliance to the design and filling in all the details.

My thanks also go to the Public Works Engineering staff who made sure everything we conceived would be buildable (we had some pretty goofy ideas), so here's a shout out to John Schoof, Joshua Haggmark, Adam Hendel and our cool, calm, collected and fierce inspector, Linda West. Lastly, Keven Strasburg, who has worked for me for the past few years, kept some particularly nasty surprises from marring the final product.

I've been involved in a broad range of projects in the past 21 years, including the beachside skateboard park, the north-of-Cabrillo expansion of Chase Palm Park, face-lifts for Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden and lots of playgrounds. But the Bohnett Park expansion just might be my favorite. Now would someone please come up with a name for the place?

# # # #

Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.


# # # #

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 29566 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-04 08:54 AM

Nice detailed article by the primary designer for the park frontage along San Andres Street.

That is a great place for a City Council candidate to record some photos for his voter outreach materials.


 COMMENT 29567 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-04 08:57 AM

Sounds lovely. I'll go take a look. All of your mentioned projects are fine (except the beach side skateboard park which has nothing to do with the beach and should be elsewhere but that - the location, marring the beachside - most likely was not your choice.)


 SBWATCHER agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-04 09:15 AM

Wasn't Goodnick the designer of the controversial and still uncompleted "Meadow Terrace" project at the Botanic Garden?


 COMMENT 29600 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-04 12:30 PM

SB Watcher: Yes, I was one of the designers for the controversial project at the Botanic Garden. Proudly so.


 COMMENT 29605 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-04 02:15 PM

I drove by the other day and found it to be a an eyeopening attractive space that gives a sense of peace and belonging. I hope the surrounding neighborhoods respect and take pride in this space.


 COMMENT 29610 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-04 04:39 PM

It looks fun..and blends with the area. I too hope that it is treated well. Open space is precious here on the West Side.


 COMMENT 29646 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-05 08:13 AM

I hope to get down to Santa Barbara the end of June and visit the park. I grew up on San Andres in the '30s. Attended Wilson school and then walked to La Cumbre Jr. High for the three years. Played in Mission creek and have many fond memories of the west side. My mother and Mrs Bohnett were members of the PTA at Wilson school.


 COMMENT 29656 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-05 08:55 AM

What a lovely article...can't wait to go have a look at the space. Billy, do you know anything about building an aquatic complex?...just asking!


 COMMENT 29658 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-05 09:02 AM

Billy - Naming the park is easy. It's part of Bohnett Park, so we take the 'bo' from Bohnett and attach it to the abreviated San Andres Miracle (being SAM) and we have Sambo Park. Hmm...maybe we can get some vendor carts and sell coffee and pancakes to help fund the park!


 COMMENT 29666 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-05 10:54 AM

Name it Sambo's?!? Brilliant and most creative! Love the San Andres Miracle. I bet you do well at word puzzles.

'Cept in today's climate that imagery of Little Black Sambo from Helen Bannerman's children's book would find a wee bit of resistance (even though the character is a dark-skinned child from India). I think we have to keep working.


 BONNER agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-05 11:41 AM

what a charming and imaginative addition for the westsiders, can't wait to go by and take a look. Sometimes artists get carried away when public art and funding is available and this looks like the right balance took place, congratulations to all involved!


 COMMENT 29702 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-05 02:38 PM

great story but why no map?


 COMMENT 29745 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-05 07:31 PM

Here is a map,
New park


 COMMENT 29753 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-05 09:13 PM

Micael - I figured that giving the intersection would be enough for locals. The map posted by IslayGreg shows the original park down below, but the new park is up on San Andres St at W. Victoria. Hope you can stop by.


 COMMENT 29755 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-05 10:02 PM

Great job of designing and describing the new pocket park, Billy! I agree with you that it really does need a new name, maybe one in Spanish to complement all the Spanish street names, like
- Parque San Andres, or
- Parque San Pascual
On the subject of Spanish street names, I noticed that there's an "enye" accent over the third letter of Canon Perdido St. signs west of the 101, but on the gringo side of 101 the accent is missing, and lots of folks mispronounce it in English, "Cannon perdido." Wrong! We need to get the "enye" accents up on all the Can(y)on Perdido street signs in town. Let's get it right for a change!


 COMMENT 29899 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-08 09:58 PM

Begtodiffer: My understanding is that Canon Perdido was because it is where a lost (actually hidden) cannon was found. Something about some young men stealing and then hiding a cannon from the Spaniards. So, no "enye" and Canon is the correct spelling. Neal Graffy might be able to explain it further.


 COMMENT 30060 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-10 06:32 PM

What a beautiful spot for the gangbangers to smoke pot.


 COMMENT 30063 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-10 07:15 PM

You really know how to look on the bright side of everything, Axman. What's your secret?


 COMMENT 30075 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-06-10 11:11 PM

I live in "paradise."


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