The lady of La Arcada Court
Empty storefronts on State Street and in La Cumbre Plaza have had city officials and local business leaders wringing their hands and staying awake nights wondering how to solve the dilemma.
Has no one told them about Lynne Tahmisian, the vivacious, fun-loving grandmother who runs La Arcada Court at 1114 State St.?
There is practically never a vacancy for the 22 retail spaces on the main floor and a waiting list for the 50 offices on the second floor.
What’s her secret for success?
Three words — “We are family,” she said during a lengthy interview about her little-known role as president of La Arcada Investment Corp.
Among her tenants are Gallery 113, Waterhouse Gallery, the Barber Shop, Coast 2 Coast Collection, Chocolate de CaliBressan, Lewis & Clarke, Andersen’s Danish Bakery and Restaurant, Petit Valentien, State & Fig; and the law firms, nonprofits, therapists, wealth managers and others who rent space on the second floor where Mrs. Tahmisian also has her office.
“I practically never have a vacancy and when I do, it’s not for long. All the businesses have to be local, and it’s not just about filling the space. It’s about the energy they bring to the group. That means no tattoo parlors and no cigarette shops,” said Mrs. Tahmisian.
“When the space at the corner of State and Figueroa became available, Starbucks wanted to rent it, but I refused because it wasn’t local. “Chocolates du CaliBressan, who had been renting a smaller space in the inner courtyard, was looking for something larger, and they are the perfect fit for that corner. Ace Rivington, which sells quality men’s wear, is the perfect fit for the smaller space.”
Her emphasis on the family aspect of the operation — taking care of each other — is no idle talk.
After the Thomas Fire and debris flow in Montecito in January 2018, the retailers were suffering from lack of business.
“I canceled their rents for the month of February because I knew they were struggling. I did the same thing six months before when the library renovation blocked off one of the entrances,” Mrs. Tahmisian said.
“I think of myself as a den mother,” she said, laughing.
During the News-Press photo shoot, she was chatting with and cheering on the workers putting up decorations for the 25th annual La Arcada Plaza Christmas Walk, which will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 4.
“I splurged on new decorations this year — new greenery, ornaments and finials. We’ll have our usual 18 Christmas trees, strolling carolers, fresh popped popcorn, and Santa will be here to have pictures taken with the children. All the stores will be open for holiday shopping and special treats,” said Mrs. Tahmisian, the mother of three sons and grandmother of five chilidren.
She was born in San Jose, one of two daughters of a Presbyterian minister, Dr. Dwight Small, and his wife, Ruth.
“We lived in Philadelphia, Chicago and Redwood City, where I graduated from San Carlos High School in 1963. I went to Wheaton College in Illinois for a semester, but it wasn’t for me. I’m a California kid. I transferred to Westmont College, which was one of the best things I ever did. I remember leaving Chicago and seeing the snow and tall buildings and coming to Westmont and seeing the gorgeous sunset over the ocean,” she said.
Soon after graduating from Westmont in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in literature and elementary education, she married a classmate, James Tahmisian, and the couple moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and Norfolk, Nebraska, where she taught school while her husband earned his doctorate as a forensic and child psychologist.
In 1972 they moved to Arroyo Grande. Mrs. Tahmisian was a full-time mom and became a member of the League of Women Voters, taught Bible study groups and worked with first offenders at the Corrective Behavior Institute.
“I also took classes in counseling at Cal Poly and finally decided I didn’t want to spend my time listening to other people’s problems,” she said with a laugh.
1972 was the same year that Hugh and Marjorie Petersen bought the La Arcada Investment Corp. after moving to Santa Barbara from the Chicago area, where Mr. Petersen had been president of the family business, J.W. Petersen Coal and Oil Co., the largest distributor of coal and fuel oil in the country.
“Marge was my aunt, but we were so close we were like sisters,” said Mrs. Tahmisian.
“When Hugh bought La Arcada, it was very run down, but he wanted to make it beautiful as a gift to the community, despite the fact that when he went to the City Council with his plans, he was advised to demolish it.
“Instead, he brought in trainloads of Brazilian mahogany to redo every single window and door to make it as beautiful as possible. Some of the wood is still in the basement.”
In 1997, Mr. Petersen asked Mrs. Tahmisian to work with him at La Arcada, and in 2001, with his health failing, he asked her to take over as president. He died in 2003 at the age of 85.
According to Mrs, Tahmisian, La Arcada was designed and constructed under the supervision of Myron Hunt in 1926. Mr. Hunt also designed the Rose Bowl, Huntington Library, Huntington Hotel, Occidental College and Pomona College.
“La Arcada was built on the site of the original Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church that was demolished during the major earthquake of 1925. The church is now located at Sola and Anacapa streets,” she said.
Mrs. Tahmisian offered other fascinating facts about the complex:
The clock in front of the La Arcada Building was designed by Lawrence Schneider, the former head clock smith of Tiffany’s of New York. He modeled it after a historic clock (from 1880) that hangs on the side of Marshall Field & Company Building in Chicago.
The entryway signs, La Arcada, at the State Street and Figueroa Street, were commissioned by Historical Arts and Casting, a company in Utah. At the time, it was considered the finest metal workshop in America. The lion and castle motif was taken from original artwork on the building dating back to 1927.
“Who’s in Charge?” the statue located on State Street left of Renaissance, 1118 State St., was created by J. Seward Johnson Jr., who also created “Nice to See You,” the window washer in front of Lewis & Clark, and is commonly referred to as “Bob” by local residents. Johnson also created the sculpture of a grandfather sitting with a child across from Jeannine’s Restaurant and Bakery.
James “Bud” Bottoms, well-known local sculptor, created the sea lion pup fountain and dolphin head fountain just inside the State Street entrance to the courtyard. He also did the full-size (8-foot) bronze dolphin and baby dolphin in the courtyard and named them “The Children’s Bench.” The sea lion in the main lobby, the large whale tail outside State & Fig, and the turtle angel on the pedestal in the Turtle Fountain are also his work.
A cannon from a Spanish galleon is above the sea lion pup fountain. It is dated 1741 and contains the Spanish Royal coat of arms as well as the signature of Jose Barnola of Barcelona, cannon maker to the royal family of Spain.
The Mozart Trio Fountain just in front of Urban Optics was designed by Bonifatius Stirnberg, Germany’s foremost sculptor of interactive public art.
In the Barber Shop are three barber chairs built by E.J. Kochs of Chicago in 1910. The parlor stove is dated 1905, and the barber poles are from the early 1990s.
A bright red English phone booth, circa 1920, is outside the entrance of State & Fig Restaurant, and another is on the second floor near the lobby elevator.
“Hugh loved to collect. The phone on the first floor actually works,” said Mrs. Tahmisian, who readily admitted she is 73 and has no plans to retire. “I love what I do.”