Way Back When: Plaza Del Mar Bandshell Turns 100 Years Old

Way Back When: Plaza Del Mar Bandshell Turns 100 Years Old title=
Way Back When: Plaza Del Mar Bandshell Turns 100 Years Old
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(Image: courtesy of John Woodward)

By Betsy J. Green

What is it? It’s the old-timey bandshell on the south end of present-day Pershing Park near the intersection of Castillo Street and Cabrillo Boulevard. It’s only used occasionally these days, but a century ago it was big news. And not all of it was good news.

Way back when in 1919, what is now Cabrillo Boulevard (then just called The Boulevard) ended at Castillo Street. A popular recreation area called Plaza del Mar was located at the corner of Castillo and The Boulevard. It stretched from the seashore up to Pershing Park. The plaza contained a large bathhouse and a spacious area in front where people gathered to socialize.

First, the good news – construction of the bandshell (also called the music shell) began in April 1919. Prominent Santa Barbara architect Winsor Soule, who had been partly responsible for designing the El Encanto Hotel, contributed the design. The estimated cost was $1,500 to $2,000. A 22-person band was being organized, and seating was planned for 2,000 people. Everyone was looking forward to the first concert in May. Well, not everyone.

The local paper wrote, “Many residents are commending the council for locating the shell in the park, where the crowds can gather about the grass, and for the first time since the park was laid out, it has become a public pleasure ground.”

The Memorial Day parade would end at the bandshell where there would be speeches and music. “The shell as a sounding board is said to be perfect, and its location, back from the sound of the surf and the noise of traffic is described as excellent for public meetings.”

So, what was the bad news? Apparently, the City Council gave permission for the bandshell to be built in the park without the approval of the Board of Park Commissioners. The Park Commissioner wrote in the local paper that the bandshell design had been unanimously rejected by the Park Board, and yet the City Council overruled the board’s decision and approved the bandshell anyway. The Park Commissioner resigned his office saying, “I do not feel that I can longer serve acceptably or usefully.”

But somehow the little bandshell survived the political storm. It is still with us today – 100 years later.

Betsy's Way Back When book -- 1918 -- is now available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. This is the fifth book in her series of the history of Santa Barbara, one year at a time. Learn more at betsyjgreen.com

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Phantom Blot May 05, 2019 09:01 AM
Way Back When: Plaza Del Mar Bandshell Turns 100 Years Old

I had a kegger there for my wife's 30th birthday. I was not well off at the time and put out a donation can by the keg. Since it was all of my good friends I did not keep an eye on things, and was having such a good time that I did not notice that a few "campers" who lived in the bandshell had drained the keg down their livers and emptied the donation can! One can see some of the finest baseball played anywhere there. Go Foresters!!!

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