A Time-Tested Treasure

By Lynda Millner   |   January 11, 2022
Lobero Director of Development Brandon Mowery, Associates President Mindy Denson, and Executive Director David Asbell

The Lobero Associates, led by President Mindy Denson, held their annual Christmas Tea during holiday time, but instead of the usual Biltmore it was at an unusual place – the stage of the Lobero Theatre. The theatre looked stunning with giant snowflakes projected over the auditorium walls. The grand piano, which was a gift from the Associates to the Theatre, was being played by Bryan Tori. The ladies were given a tour of the theatre before teatime with Executive Director David Asbell telling some of its grand history.

The Lobero is California’s oldest continuously operating theatre and was founded in 1873 and rebuilt in 1924. That was also the first Fiesta, an intentional happening that made it the focal point of the celebration. It is an architectural jewel that was designed by Lutah Maria Riggs (October 1896 – March 1984). She was an apprentice to architect George Washington Smith but was the designer and draftsman for the refurbishment of the theatre in the 1920s. Lutah was the first licensed female architect in Santa Barbara, and the first woman in California to be named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. 

The Lobero was first built by Jose Lobero in 1873 and was originally an opera house. It was well-used but by the 1920s was in great disrepair. The theatre was remade in the time when civic leaders like Dwight Murphy and Pearl Chase were beginning to unify the town’s architectural identity into Spanish Colonial style.

On June 29, 1925, came the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that devastated the historic center of the town leaving 13 casualties. The theatre was not damaged in the quake. And now the Spanish Colonial style could become a reality.

Associates Hope Kelly, Joan Crossland, Janet McCann, and Susan Tirlow
A very young Santa at the tea
Ruth Ann Bowe, Marianne Clark, Jim Dougherty, and Jessica Baggarly at the Lobero

In the 1920s there was a glittering golden era of Hollywood performances at the Lobero with actors and musicians such as Lionel Barrymore, Tallulah Bankhead, Bela Lugosi, Vladimir Horowitz, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. In the 1940s and beyond it was a favorite stop between Los Angeles and San Francisco for folks like Dame Judith Anderson, Marilyn Horne, John Cleese, Jeff Bridges, Carol Burnett (they all lived here), and dozens more. The Lobero also has a reputation for jazz, and they have had the who’s who of that world here.

The co-chairs of the associates’ tea Ruth Ann Bowe and Denise Sanford told me, “The members like the venue so much, we plan to have it on stage again next year.”

Ladies don’t wear gloves anymore and they don’t always drink tea either. There were a few champagne glasses tipped to go along with all the finger sandwiches and goodies from Rincon Catering. All the members brought $25 gift cards for a child and the card tree was given to CALM to distribute.

The Theatre Associates have been doing their good work to benefit the Lobero for 49 years. Thanks for all you do!


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