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 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 artist April Banks as designer and lead artist. 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, she collaborated with project historian Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson in gathering the stories, reminiscences, and dreams of Santa Monicans and the descendants of those who were displaced from the Field site. This ongoing conversation with community members culminated 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. 

    Biographies

    Events & Programs

    Photo of a group of friends, smiling at the camera

    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 Susan 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 

    January, 2021 

    RE/SIGHT: Time Capsule Kickoff event 

    January, 2021 

    RE/CITE: Community Cooking Together Remotely with Guest Chef 

    February, 2021 

    RE/SITE: Virtual Bus Tour 

    2/16/2021 

    Santa Monica Black History Month BH+A discussion 

    February, 2021 

    RE/SIGHT: Time Capsule Dedication 

    Spring, 2021 

    RE/SITE: Belmar Opening Celebration - virtual event 

    Spring, 2021 

    RE/CITE: Teacher Training Workshop for the Belmar Curriculum 

      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.

      Art Sculpture Rendering

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

      View renderings

      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.

      Documents

      Press

      Other Resources