My neighborhood market is the Vons Market on the corner of Victoria and Chapala Streets, in downtown Santa Barbara. The building has been around since the 60s, and looks like it. The architecture is easily identified by its propensity to include aluminum and rock - both of which were favored building materials during that era.
We affectionately call our market, the "ghetto Von's". It's a just a regular market, kind of run down, kind of shabby - and it sits right next door to the Arlington Theater. But the people who work there are really nice, it's very convenient, and I shop there all the time. It's also an international marketplace of sorts.
Just a block away, is the EF International School of English, so there are always students of English, young people from all over the world who are in town to learn English - I think I've heard a bit of every language spoken on earth while I'm buying a bag of rice or an avocado. I see my neighbors there, I know where everything is, they have good sales, and I have a Von's card so I get my discount....
Although it may not look like much, I like my Vons.
Recently, when I was buying ice for 4th of July festivities, the checker told me the store would be closing on August 8th, 2009. The property had sold and would soon be "developed". There was talk of more luxury condos, but nothing was known for sure. I was bummed.
But soon, my thoughts turned toward the greater meaning of this change, this proposed development: what about the murals?
The Victoria Street side of the building is covered with a series of tile murals, obviously a work done in the 1960s....a panorama of the distinct eras throughout Santa Barbara's history - beginning with the earliest human presence here - the Chumash. I especially like it because there is little other acknowledgment of the first residents of Santa Barbara County - not in the downtown area, and there is certainly nothing two stories tall that depicts the Chumash and identifies them as the first true residents here.
I have never known who created the mural, or anything about it, but I appreciate it. It's an unsentimental look, a brief overview, if you will, of what has happened on this soil during the past 13,000 years with regard to human history. And, it's told in the vernacular of a 1960s artistic style:
First, there were the Chumash. The Chumash elders have said their name means "seashell people", or "bead makers". They were peaceful, intelligent stewards of the land and sea around them. The Chumash have a rich spiritual tradition, and a strong sense of community. In those early days, they made plank boats, and bravely traveled back and forth to Santa Barbara's Channel Islands with alacrity. They lived in a true paradise on earth, making use of the gifts nature had placed here.
The next panel identifies the Spanish explorers:
The Spanish brought an unimagined world - and future - to the very door of this Chumash home. Their dominant technology and ideas would change the land and its people - forever.
This also laid the foundation for the Mission Period:
The Spanish established the Santa Barbara Mission, in addition to 20 other missions up and down the "Camino Real" - the Royal Road - along California's west coast. They colonized the area, and The Rancho Period began.
After them, especially after the Civil War ended, and gold was discovered in California, the American Settlers arrived:
Soon, in addition to Americans who had moved out west, people from all over the world began to arrive - Italians, Chinese, English, Japanese, Portuguese - and many, many others.
This led to "The Modern Age":
Oil and other natural resources were gleaned, technology enhanced travel and communication, and brought the world closer together; man left earth to walk on the moon.
It is quite a story, just as every place has its tale of a long and arduous human history. But this is our story and I love how the mural tells it without words.
So, now that Von's will close - what will become of the murals? I contacted the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, and asked about the future of this artwork. Surely, this must be considered historically significant.
I received a reply to my query today - from Jake Jacobus, Urban Historian for the Community Development Department, Design Review and Historic Preservation Section for the City of Santa Barbara. Here is what he wrote:
the Santa Barbara School of the Arts from 1927 through 1930.
The Architectural Board of Review approved the design of the mural in
1958, and the mural was installed in 1959 at a cost of $25,000.00.
The mural is divided into six panels each 13 feet high and 18 1/2 feet
wide, with the total length along W. Victoria St. being approximately
The panels depict periods in the development of Santa Barbara County,
including the Chumash, Spanish explorers, the Mission, the California
rancho, the American settler, and the modern era.
A total of 260,000 individual fired, unglazed tiles in eight colors were
used to create the six panel mural.
I hope that this information is of use to you. If I come across more
information regarding the mural, I'll pass it along.
So now we know - nothing has been decided. It is, in fact, an historically important artifact to the City. Mr. Jacobus also wrote that he, "advised the project architect many months ago that the Mural has historic significance and will have to be incorporated into the proposed project and preserved on site."
Thank you, Mr. Jacobus!
I looked around on the internet a little bit, and found that Mr. Knowles (1907 - 1980), a longtime resident of Santa Barbara, was a member of the California Watercolor Society. (The original painting done by Mr. Knowles, above, is available for purchase. Just click on the Watercolor Society link.) Mr. Knowles was an art teacher at the University of California at Santa Barbara, as well as at the Brooks Institute. He was a painter, a printmaker, a muralist, and even a stained glass artist.
And I am delighted to know that he is also a permanent part of downtown history.
Thanks to the vigilance of the City of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, The Pearl Chase Society, along with other important organizations like The Santa Barbara Historic Museum and Library, the preservation of our history and legacy is ongoing, and is protected for those who will continue to come to Santa Barbara to visit, and to call it home.