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

Santa Monica Cultural Affairs has embarked on a collaborative project to commemorate the history of the African American residents and business owners of the Belmar neighborhood, which was formerly situated in the current Civic Center campus. A team has been gathered to develop art and interpretive elements and an educational program centered at the new Civic Center Multipurpose Field, now called Historic Belmar Park.

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

    The artwork, interpretive signage, and education plan are being informed and inspired by historical research and a public engagement process that aims to shine a light on underrepresented stories of the community, including the legacy of displacement that the site in part represents. The Santa Monica Arts Commission confirmed social practice artist April Banks as designer and lead artist for this engagement process, gathering the stories, reminiscences, and dreams of Santa Monicans and the descendants of those who were displaced from the Field site. Banks works with artmaking as “social practice,” a form which puts human engagement and community at the heart of its process. Utilizing themes gathered from the public engagement activities and historical materials about the area, Banks, in collaboration with project historian Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson, shepherds a dialogue with community members that will culminate in an artistic interpretation at the new Historic Belmar Park that commits to social justice, commemorates the site’s history, and celebrates the rich legacy of African American contributions to Santa Monica life. Findings from the Phase I of this project will be utilized in a Phase II expansion that will include the historic Bay Street Beach. 

    Biographies

    Events & Programs

    Photo of a group of friends, smiling at the camera

    Join Us for an Event

    RE/GENERATION is a series of events for the community. We invite you to participate and contribute to this project.

      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." —Alison Rose Jefferson

      Present

      The project site is located at 4th Street and Pico Blvd surrounding the new Civic Center Multipurpose Sports Field. As part of the approval of the sport 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.

      Art Sculpture Rendering

      Collage of April Banks’ renderings for A Resurrection in Four Stanzas

      View renderings

      Learn More

      A beach filled with people enjoying the sunshine, under colorful umbrellas

      Documents

      Press

      Other Resources

      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

      We are working to build a digital archive of Santa Monica African American history as a part of this project. Stay tuned as we share the development of this archive and how you and your family can participate.

      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.
      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 interwines 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.