Since the project’s inception, local artist April Banks and historian Alison Rose Jefferson have been hard at work engaging the community at various events held throughout town. Courtesy photo.

Historic Belmar Park will be the name of Santa Monica’s newest open space after City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday.

In the summer of 2019, the city of Santa Monica embarked on a collaborative project to commemorate the history of the Belmar neighborhood. It was a vibrant community that was erased through eminent domain to make space for projects like the expansion of Santa Monica’s Civic Center campus in the 1950s, according to city officials, who said this week that construction is nearly complete on the 3.5-acre complex.

The project is expected to feature a sculpture of a shotgun house, a form of architecture that was common in Santa Monica’s Belmar neighborhood between 1900 and 1950, and a number of other pieces that look to pay tribute to the site’s importance. Since the project’s inception, local artist April Banks and historian Alison Rose Jefferson have been hard at work engaging community members at events that occurred back when COVID-19 was nonexistent.

“As part of the community engagement process, we asked for naming recommendations for the field,” Cultural Affairs Manager Shannon Daut said during Wednesday’s meeting “By far, the vast majority had the name Belmar in them,” so on June 18, the recommendation was brought to the Recreation and Parks Commission, who approved the recommendation to City Council to name the open space Belmar Park. “And that is what we’re bringing forth today”

Kristin McCowan said after a short presentation about the project that she was confused by the choice to recommend “Belmar Park” as opposed to naming the project the Historic Belmar Park. “I would argue that it doesn’t actually give enough weight to the historic nature by removing the word historic,” McCowan said.

Daut said the Recreation and Parks Commission chose to leave historic out of the name, but McCowan replied she strongly disagreed with the decision

“I think that I agree with Kristin. Calling it simply Belmar Park does not convey the weight of it,” councilmember Sue Himmelrich said. “What you want is kids to say, ‘Why is this here?’… And I think when you put the historic (part) in front of it, it begs for the history, and without it, it just could be someone’s name.”

Councilmember Ted Winterer suggested naming the open space Belmar History Park so residents don’t get confused into thinking the area is designated historic when it’s not.

Mayor Kevin McKeown said he would hate for the park to become known as simply “History Park,” shortly before McCowan moved to proceed with phase two of the Belmar History + Art Project and that the city names it Historic Belmar Park.

A pair of unanimous votes made the proposed ordinance official.

“And that ordinance will now make a park in our city,” McKeown said, “and name it Historic Belmar Park.”

As part of Council’s action, in 2021 the Belmar History + Art project is also expected to expand to explore and tell the story of Bay Street Beach, a popular destination for African Americans during the Jim Crow era. Phase Two of the History + Art project will use Percent for Art funds generated as part of the North Beach Trails Improvement project, according to city staff.

“Historic Belmar Park and the new artwork by artist April Banks will share the history of the Belmar neighborhood across generations of Santa Monicans,” said Interim City Manager Lane Dilg. “Through the Belmar History + Art project, now expanding to Bay Street Beach, we continue our work to lift up Black history and amplify Black voices across our community.”

Brennon@smdp.com