Santa Barbara Declares Old Church Building a Structure of Merit | Local News
The former Second Baptist Church building near downtown Santa Barbara is now a merit structure.
The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to recognize the building at 26 E. Gutierrez St.
Built in 1925, the church served as an important institution for Santa Barbara’s African-American community and is significant for its historical influence on the city’s heritage, according to city historian Nicole Hernandez.
The Second Baptist Church and St. Paul AME Church, which is several blocks away at 502 Olive St. and was designated a City Historic Landmark in 2020, has been popular in the African-American community for decades .
The original church was toppled in the 1925 earthquake, but was later rebuilt.
Minor changes were made to the facade of the building and the front window was replaced in the 1950s. The side windows are original.
According to Hernandez, about 70 people attended weekly services at the church in the 1990s, but in 2000 the congregation moved to 1032 E. Mason St. across from Franklin School.
In 2010, the church proposed to build a housing project on the Gutierrez Street site for low-income seniors, veterans, and marginalized members of the community, but the proposal was never completed.
After the congregation left, the church skateboard shop in Skatan moved in. The store was opened by church building owner Tony Buyalos, who founded skateboard gear maker Shorty’s Inc. Buyalos died of cancer in 2020.
Although the store closed in 2014, the same year the Architectural Board of Review approved a long-term permit for a large-scale mural on the back of the building.
The mural, by skateboard artist David Flores, is inspired by Maurice Sendak’s book, where the wild things areand monitors the REI parking lot, right next door at 321 Anacapa St.
Krystle Farmer Sieghart, co-founder of Healing Justice Santa Barbara, spoke at the Historic Landmarks Commission meeting in support of the building’s designation as a Structure of Merit. A fifth-generation Santa Barbara, she said she grew up in the church and was baptized there, as were her children.
It was very difficult to see the church closed, she said, because of “a lack of support from the community.”
“It means a lot to point to historic landmarks like this and say ‘Black lives matter here in Santa Barbara,'” Sieghart said.
“I think it’s really important to really invest in building up and supporting black people in the community and making sure we tell their stories and their story.”
The Second Baptist Church was founded in 1910 as Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church. Meetings were held in a small house at the corner of East Ortega and Santa Barbara streets, and the congregation was led by the Reverend H. B. Thomas until his death in 1949.
According to Hernandez’s report, the church was one of the first in Santa Barbara established for African Americans, with St. Paul AME Church predating it in 1903.
In his report, Hernandez said the Second Baptist Church established Community Achievement Enterprises, a nonprofit affiliate of the church; sponsored the Learning and Resource Center at the Franklin Neighborhood Center; and had mission programs to serve the less fortunate. She said the church was a place where members could support each other in addressing socio-economic challenges.
“The Second Baptist Church was among the first to enter into a contract with the federal government for the distribution of food to families and the homeless,” Hernandez’s report said. “The church was one of the first in Santa Barbara to implement a computer-based learning program on the Eastside…
“Second Baptist also served as a cultural center where church and community members could learn and celebrate their African American heritage.”
Leticia Forney-Resch also supported the designation.
“I just learned that my ancestor was married at Mount Olive Church,” she said. “So please know that my history goes back this far, I do not want it to be erased again under any circumstances, so I would like it to become a landmark so other people can learn more about this church and all the things he did for this community.
The commission may later designate the building as a city landmark, but first asked Hernandez to return with a more detailed report on the original architecture and “a deeper dive into the building”, said commission chairman Anthony Grumbine.