Since July 2019 I have been the project historian on the City of Santa Monica public history and art project to recognize the early African American settlement that was located in the Belmar neighborhood near Fourth Street and Pico Boulevard which was wiped out with the civic center campus expansion in the 1950s. The Belmar History + Art civic commemoration project will reconstruct the history and honor African American residents and business owners who contributed to Santa Monica’s historical development and cultural life from the 1900s to 1950s.
Important businesses and the first black church, Phillip Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal, provided services and accommodations for African Americans from Santa Monica and elsewhere. The black-owned business offerings were particularly important for African Americans and other marginalized groups when they came to enjoy the Pacific Ocean a few blocks away.
The stories of people and community, their accomplishments and their freedom struggle, the public and private spaces they claimed as their own, and the impacts of displacement due to waves of urban renewal construction projects, as well as redlining — are some of the narratives of the African American experience which will inform the historical information messages that will vividly come to life in the permanent artwork and ongoing educational programming that will be the outcome of the Belmar History + Art project. This programming is one of the first to move forward in fulfilling the California Coastal Commission’s social justice policy to provide more equity in coastal resources for the benefit of all Californians and is the first public history and art project of this type the City of Santa Monica has undertaken.
The Belmar History + Art project is another important step for local and California citizens in recognizing that communities of color have a right to historical and cultural sites, along with enjoyment of America’s natural and recreational resources. I look forward to collaborating with the artist selected for the project, April Banks, along with City of Santa Monica team members and others to create an exemplary public history and art program that will amplify understanding of our collective and diverse California cultural coastal heritage as it provides greater coastal zone accessibility for present and future generations.
Learn more about the community engagement workshops and events, take our survey and subscribe for updates at the Belmar History + Art webpage. Educational/information signage and public art will be installed around the new Civic Center Multipurpose Sports Field nearby Fourth and Pico in late 2020.
Stay tuned for more on the new educational signage and interpretative elements to come soon that will illuminate the African American beach culture heritage site in Santa Monica at Bay Street and Ocean Front Walk which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Bay Street Beach Historic District in June 2019.