DOWNTOWN — A quarter century ago this September, the Third Street Promenade as we know it was born and Downtown Santa Monica Inc. will be celebrating the milestone all summer long.
The group tasked with operating and marketing the popular destination hosted a media event Thursday afternoon, bringing together some of the founders and incubators of the now-pedestrian heavy strip to tell their stories.
Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane and lead promenade planner Woodie Tescher reminisced, like a vaudeville duo or proud parents, about the planning process.
Tescher, wearing a tie featuring an overhead rendering of city blocks, spoke of the public outreach workshops, which operated out of a Third Street shoe store. Residents would pull parsley from their soups, he said, and line them up to represent trees. Froot Loops were used to designate land-use areas, he said.
“People would grab the Froot Loops in one area and fight each other, slap their hands about where they were moving the Froot Loops to,” Tescher said.
Compared to the recent Bergamot area planning processes, he said, the promenade planning’s public response was a “slam dunk.”
Adaptive reuse, rather than new construction, aimed to maintain the character of the area, he said. There was no prescribed architectural style but he said the result worked to everyone’s interests.
Speakers described a unique partnership between city leaders, planners, residents and businesses that created the retail mix for the area.
Zane said that when, to the chagrin of neighbors, proposed movie theater projects started popping up in eastern portions of the city, City Council prohibited their construction anywhere outside of the Downtown. Council opted to focus on art, rather than treating it as an afterthought at the request of local arts advocates.
And then in September of 1989, the Froot Loops turned into actual mixed-use housing and outdoor dining. The parsley turned into actual jacaranda trees.
Theater operators moved Downtown. The Farmers’ Market acted as a catalyst.
The ivy grew thick on the — as Zane put it — “barfing dinosaur” sculptures that now bookend the promenade.
And the people came.
“The promenade was almost an immediate hit,” Zane said, “and believe me that was a big surprise to many people, including us, because we were doing something here that had not been done anywhere in America.”
The project meant to give residents a nice area to walk around became, almost overnight, a world-class destination.
Zane recalled, speaking over the sounds of a street performer’s bass, the shock of seeing articles about his baby in the New York Times and the French newspaper, Le Monde.
There will be several celebrations to mark the anniversary. Downtown Santa Monica Inc. will be selling 25th anniversary posters to benefit the affordable housing nonprofit, Step Up On Second.
Picnic on the Promenade, an outdoor KCRW-hosted music event to be held every Friday from noon to 3 p.m., will kick off next week at the Arizona Avenue corner.
Cinema On The Street, an outdoor movie screening on the promenade, will expand to six nights over the course of the summer. That starts July 11 with “Field of Dreams” which shares both a birth year (1989) and an axiom: “If you build it, they will come.”