Belmar History + Art

A photo of three people at the beach, smiling at the camera
Ralph Bunche and friends at Santa Monica Beach, CA, ca. 1923 / Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

A Civic Commemoration Project

Belmar History + Art (BH+A) #BelmarHistoryArt

The Belmar History + Art (BH+A) project commemorates the history of the African American residents and business owners of the historic Belmar and surrounding neighborhoods. Once a thriving community, this area was razed through eminent domain in the 1950s in order to make way for the Civic Auditorium and the Civic Center campus. BH+A was founded upon three co-equal elements: art, community, and history, each working in concert to creatively and collectively celebrate the legacy of African American contributions to Santa Monica life.

Rich conversations and storytelling with community members, historical research, and a lengthy design process led to the lesson plans and resources on this website, and the onsite elements at the new Historic Belmar Park (opened 2021). The park contains a sports field, a series of historical interpretive signs along an encircling .4 mile walking path, and a monumental new sculpture near the entrance to the field. That entrance is located midblock on 4th Street between Olympic and Pico Blvds, at 1840 4th Street, Santa Monica CA 90404. For more about the sports field, click here.

Artist: April Banks

Historian: Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson

Belmar History + Art 1-minute introductory video
Belmar History + Art 5-minute project overview video

    Project Overview

    In late 2019, the Santa Monica Arts Commission confirmed artist April Banks as the project artist to join Belmar History + Art project historian Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson. Utilizing themes gathered from the public engagement activities and historical materials, Banks collaborated with Jefferson to gather the stories, memories, and dreams of Santa Monicans and the descendants of those who were displaced from the neighborhood.

    In-person activities with the community, and the development of the Belmar educational materials and public art design elements began in early 2020 and continued virtually after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The historical interpretive signs were installed at Historic Belmar Park in fall 2020, and the art sculpture is set to be installed in spring 2021. 

    What began as an exploration of the history of a particular site, became a wider exploration of the African American neighborhoods of South Santa Monica and their contributions of African Americans to the city’s historical and cultural heritage.

    Belmar History + Art (BH+A) is a project of the City of Santa Monica, commissioned through its Percent for Art Program and made possible by Santa Monica Cultural Affairs and the City of Santa Monica’s Public Works Department. We recognize and acknowledge the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples on whose lands we are gathering, celebrating, and learning.

    Biographies

    Events & Programs

    A photo of a group of friends, smiling at the camera
    Photo Left to right: Nat Trives, Jataun Valentine, Alison Rose Jefferson, LaVerne Ross, Lloyd and Norma Allen.

    Belmar Events

    “RE/GENERATION is a series of events for the community. Below is a selection of the milestone events, both in-person and online, that took place during this project, as well as save-the-dates for upcoming events. A listing of events is available below. Leading up to the anticipated spring 2021 installation of the final physical elements of the field there will be other online events including a call for material to be included in the Belmar Time Capsule. Stay tuned!” 

    8/27/2019 

    Civic Field Project groundbreaking 

    9/11/2019 

    Introduction to Belmar Luncheon 

    10/28/2019 

    Arts Commission approval of April Banks 

    12/7/2019 

    Project Kickoff Breakfast 

    12/29/2019 

    Alison Rose Jefferson BH+A talk at Church in Ocean Park 

    1/18/2020 

    RE/CITE: Poetry with Natalie Patterson at Main Library 

    1/19/2020 

    RE/CITE: Black Cultural Sites Bus Tour with Robbie Jones 

    1/24/2020 

    RE/CITE: StoryCorps at Virginia Avenue Park Teen Center 

    1/25/2020 

    RE/SIGHT: Archiving Local History Talk at Main Library 

    2/5/2020 

    RE/CITE: StoryCorps - Offsite at 3rd Street Promenade 

    2/16/2020 

    RE/CITE: Community Tea at 18th Street Art Center 

    2/20/2020 

    RE/CITE: City Staff Info Session at Main Library 

    2/24/2020 

    RE/CITE: Teen Worldbuilding Workshop: Belmar 2070 at Santa Monica High School with Susu Attar and Natalie Patterson 

    2/25/2020 

    Black History Month booth at the 3rd St. Promenade with Delana Gbenekama 

    2/26/2020 

    Montana Library African American History Talk 

    2/29/2020 

    RE/SITE: Dance with d. sabela grimes at Virginia Avenue Park 

    2/29/2020 

    RE/CITE: Poetry Reading with Natalie Patterson at Greens Fest 

    8/9/2020 

    Santa Monica History Museum Throwback Thursdays - Belmar history talk 

    8/27/2020 

    City Council adopts Historic Belmar Park name 

    10/8/2020 

    SMC Public Policy Institute “Aspiring toward Social Justice and Reconciliation through the Arts" BH+A discussion 

    10/28/2020 

    Santa Monica Conservancy "Santa Monica Mosaic series" BH+A discussion 

    1/2021 

    RE/SIGHT: Time Capsule Kickoff 

    2/15/2021 

    RE/SIGHT: Outdoor Projections YouTube stream

    2/16/2021 

    Santa Monica Black History Month BH+A discussion 

    2/28/2021

    RE/SITE: Belmar Opening Celebration

    6/19/2021 

    RE/SITE: Wade in the Water: A Tiny Film Fest 

    Summer 2021

    RE/SITE: Virtual Bus Tour


      City of Santa Monica Calendar

      All events

      The Site

      Photo of Belmar from above
      The former Belmar neighborhood in view, Fairchild Aerial Survey of Santa Monica - SMPL Image Archives

      Past

      This aerial view shows Belmar, one of the first neighborhoods where African Americans settled when they migrated to Santa Monica. The Belmar area thrived with homes, culture and business until it was displaced in the 1950s by eminent domain.

      "The City of Santa Monica has the oldest African American settlement of any seaside community in the region which includes their descendants and institutions from the early twentieth century. Seduced by the escapism of the sand and surf resort town, these pioneers came to seek their dream of “El Dorado,” just like the other migrants to the area. They were of the working class group who had faith in the promise of upward mobility." — Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson

      Present

      The project site, now the City’s newest park is located at 4th Street and Pico Blvd surrounding the new Civic Center Multipurpose Sports Field. The name Historic Belmar Park was approved by Santa Monica City Council on August 27, 2020. As part of the approval of the sports field, the Coastal Commission added a special condition requiring interpretive signage and an educational program that conveys the history of the African-American residents and business owners of the Belmar neighborhood that was formerly located here.

      More about the Civic Center Field Project; more about general plans at the Civic Center Campus.

      Site Element Renderings

      Historic Belmar Park Site Guide

      Cover image of Historic Belmar Park Site Guide

      Archive

      Four young people enjoying a day at the beach
      Photo: Grace Williams, Albert Williams, Mary Mingleton and Willie Williams enjoying a day at Bay Street Beach, 1926. Los Angeles Public Library Photography Collection.

      Info

      Learn More about the project and further resources below. Contact us if you have a Belmar-related story you’d like to feature in our Archive! 

      Belmar History + Art 1-minute introductory video (Santa Monica Cultural Affairs)
      Belmar History + Art 5-minute project overview video (Santa Monica Cultural Affairs)
      Belmar History + Art Kick-off Breakfast by Leroy Hamilton from Santa Monica Cultural Affairs on Vimeo.
      Historic Belmar Park Virtual Grand Opening (Santa Monica Cultural Affairs)
      Photo Gallery, Belmar History + Art
      Photo Gallery, Belmar History + Art on Facebook.

      Biographies

      April Banks was raised a vegetarian in the woods of Virginia. She graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture from Hampton University in Virginia in 1996. After migrating west, she obtained a Master of Science in Environmental Design from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 1999. She lived in Oakland for 13 years, spent a year living abroad in Colombia, before returning to Los Angeles in 2014. Her unconventional career intertwines the worlds of art, design, architecture and social practice. With years of experience designing exhibitions for museums, she understands the challenge of creating public engagement opportunities. As an artist she has developed a style that is visually enticing and thought provoking. By combining the two she develops artwork and design solutions that are memorable multi-sensory experiences. Learn more about April’s work at aprilbanks.com.

      A third-generation Californian, Alison Rose Jefferson, M.H.C. | Ph.D. is a historian and heritage, conservation consultant. Her research interests explore the intersection of American history and the African American experience in California, historical memory, spatial justice, and cultural tourism, with an aim to engage broad audiences through applied history projects in the struggle for social justice. Her new book, Living the California Dream, African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era (University of Nebraska Press, 2020) examines the local stories of African Americans, including in Santa Monica, who fought for equal access to California’s recreation and relaxation offerings as they contributed to the broader U.S. freedom rights struggle during the nation’s Jim Crow era (1900s to 1960s). Leisure, was not an optional add-on to civil rights, but an essential component of liberty. Her work has garnered attention in KCET-LA programming, the Los Angeles and New York Times newspapers and other media outlets. Learn more about Dr. Jefferson’s work at alisonrosejefferson.com.

      Documents

      Press

      Other Resources