Officials consider removing turf and giving De la Guerra Plaza a hardscape
Officials are beginning to come to a consensus on reimagining De la Guerra Plaza.
The Historic Landmarks Commission and the De la Guerra Plaza Advisory Committee recently met to continue to lay the groundwork on specific design elements and features for the plaza adjacent to Santa Barbara City Hall.
“The plaza is functioning more as a back-of-house for trash and recycling and an inadequate parking lot. But it’s not a park,” Brad Hess, Santa Barbara’s principal project manager, said. “I guarantee that when people say, ‘I’m going off to the park,’ they’re not referring to this plaza.”
“We have beautiful parks in this city, but really the quest for this project and the advisory committee is to create a beautiful civic plaza that functions really well, that’s appropriate for the setting, that is historic and that can facilitate activities year-round that honestly cannot happen in the current condition and configuration of the plaza,” Mr. Hess said. “We see so much more for this space.”
The idea is to flatten the plaza, making it more level and accessible to visitors. Foliage, restrooms, a pavilion and a bubbler have been suggested as elements for the plaza.
“Preservation projects, when they work well, provide continuity between the past and the present,” said Dr. Anne Peterson, a member of the advisory committee and executive director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. “They help bring an important historic resource into the present so it can be used again and loved again by the community. And that requires that it changes.”
Although it has caused consternation, most representatives in both groups seemingly agreed to remove the turf from the park. A memo from Post/Hazeltine and Associates noted grass was not an original feature of the plaza but was added in 1924 when a new Mediterranean-style City Hall building was constructed.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon, a member of the advisory committee, said she felt nostalgia for the turf — recalling times she visited the park in the 1980s — but suggested climate change has not made it sustainable any longer.
“In 1924, the grass went in; 2024 seems like an appropriate time for the grass to go,” Ms. Sneddon said. “It’s not lightly that I’m recommending that we lose the turf. It’s actually with a great deal of mourning that we are living in times when it’s necessary.”
The hardscape renderings presented at the meeting included a variety of potential surface materials, including stones emulating streets in Spain.
Anthony Grumbine, chair of the HLC, encouraged further exploration of materials that could be used as well as an examination of costs, longevity and potential heat effect issues.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle over the arcade element — including over what to call it. By the end of the April 22 joint meeting, the only consensus seemed to be that the arcade, as presented, wasn’t quite ready. And maybe “pavilion” was a better moniker instead of “arcade.”
Already the structure has been pushed further back from the center of the plaza and has been decreased in size. Mr. Grumbine encouraged the structure to be pushed back even further, so as not to obstruct the view of the plaza from the steps of City Hall, and recommended consideration of an adobe-style design instead.
Representatives from both groups were mostly on board with a water feature, now referred to as a bubbler.
It would still remain to be decided how exactly the bubbler would work — how it could be activated and for how long — but the current rendering has it pushed to a back corner with water only reaching 12-18 inches high.
The idea is to incorporate a pattern with the bubbler, bringing some color to the plaza.
Robert Ooley, a member of the HLC, suggested the pattern should include Chumash imagery to elevate their history.
Ms. Sneddon, too, was adamant the Chumash should be represented in the plaza.
“We are not done until we honor the Chumash culture in this plaza,” Ms. Sneddon said. “I very heartfelt believe we have healing to do there, and we need to also be appreciating and celebrating our arts. Those elements have not yet been integrated into the plaza as a whole. I don’t believe this project is ready until those two elements are met.”
HLC and advisory committee members expressed approval of how the restroom area is designed to be visually unobtrusive.
Mr. Hess said his team would work on an update on surface materials, lighting plans and art and culture incorporation possibilities as well as more work on the pavilion.
And thus, the balancing act of De la Guerra Plaza’s past and future continues.