Belmar History + Art

A Civic Commemoration Project

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 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 is an artist, educated as an architect. Her unconventional career has straddled conceptual art, social practice, and exhibition design, with a transmedia practice that sits between photography, installation, and collaborative experimentation. Her social practice focuses on engagement that seeks to amplify and preserve hidden community stories. In pursuit of joy, yet often enraged, her work usually begins with a question. Recent projects have focused on historical archives and memories, posing what we think we know of the past and how it informs our cultural positioning systems. Her work has been exhibited in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Daytona Beach, New Hampshire, Maryland, New York, Switzerland, Colombia, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Senegal and Ethiopia. In February 2021 she completed her first permanent public art sculpture “A Resurrection in Four Stanzas” in Santa Monica, CA. aprilbanks.com

Historian: Alison Rose Jefferson M.H.C. | Ph.D. is an independent historian, cultural producer and heritage conservation consultant. A third generation Californian, her research interests explore the intersection of American history, the African American experience in California, historical memory, spatial justice, commemorative justice, and cultural tourism. Dr. Jefferson uses her work to connect with the concerns and interests of present-day communities who have been underserved and aims to engage broad audiences through varying styles of Applied History projects in the struggle for social justice. Her book, Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era (University of Nebraska Press, 2020) was awarded the 2020 Miriam Matthews Ethnic History Award by the Los Angeles City Historical Society for its significant contributions to the understanding of region history. Her work has garnered attention in KCET-LA programming, the Los Angeles and The New York Times, The Guardian and Le Monde newspapers, CBS TV "60 Minutes+" news program and other media. Learn more about Dr. Jefferson’s work at alisonrosejefferson.com.



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.

Events and Programs

“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  

6/20/2021

RE/CITE: BELONGING Dance Film 

The Site

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 Historic Belmar Park. More about general plans at the Civic Center Campus.

Photos and Video

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!  

Introduction to the Project>
Kick-off Breakfast>
Time Capsule Burial>
Historic Belmar Park Virtual Grand Opening>
BELONGING Dance Film>
Photo Gallery, Belmar History + Art on Facebook>

Press, Articles and Education Resources

Press

Articles

Education Resources