The project has been installed at the new Civic Center field. Courtesy image.

Santa Monica’s first applied history art project is almost complete so local historian Alison Rose Jefferson and artist April Banks gathered via Zoom this week to discuss the multifaceted civic project known as Belmar History + Art.

The lecture, which is the second one hosted by the Santa Monica Conservancy members since the start of the pandemic, allowed Banks and Jefferson an opportunity to highlight the work surrounding the project that looks to honor a forgotten neighborhood in Santa Monica and brings its important history to new generations.

Work on the project began back in 2019 and there has since been a number of workshops and other community outreach sessions, according to Banks, who said this week she has been hard at work crafting the sculpture of a “Shotgun House,” which was a common form of architecture during the time.

“They’re really simple houses that were typically about 12 feet wide. Sometimes they were single rooms and sometimes they were multiple members living there,” Banks said during the lecture.

There are a few theories to where the name shotgun house originated, “but one theory is because there is no hallway. There is only a straight opening to the back —like a shotgun — it would go straight through,” Banks said. Another theory is that it actually comes further back from West Africa, and is based on a type of house used for gatherings. “So we don’t really know the origins of that name. But I think it’s a good metaphor for how space moves and how we bring things with us. And a symbol of the house, to me, represented the lives and the hopes that people had here… And I just feel like this is a really important way to think about home — and even though the displacement happened, we still have this history that needs to be told.”

Banks added she intends to cut patterns and photos into the sides of the sculpture that will exemplify the stories unearthed in Jefferson’s recent book “Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites During the Jim Crow Era,” which is how the Belmar History+Art project originated, Jefferson said.

The local historian said the project designers are also looking to develop a curriculum that can be used by Santa Monica schools to ensure residents are continuing to be educated about the historic neighborhood that once occupied the land across the street from the Samohi.

The project’s broad and innovative ways of sharing untold stories will enliven the past in ways that resonate with Santa Monica constituents like never before, Jefferson said.

“We came to an understanding about the power of ongoing education…. So again, I feel super excited that we are including curriculum as a part of this project,” and that it will immediately affect the students who are in the vicinity of the project site, Banks said before Conservancy officials shared the project is currently under review by the California Coastal Commission and there is hope that its sign will be installed by the first of the year.