Living la vida Lobero

Lobero Theatre celebrates over a century of the arts in the heart of Santa Barbara

By Mike Miller
Photos Courtesy of Lobero Theatre

Located in the heart of beautiful Santa Barbara, the Lobero Theatre holds a rich history as one of the oldest continuously operating theaters in the state of California. Initially built in 1873, the theater first served as a community center, hosting various events ranging from concerts to lectures. Over the years, it underwent renovations and expansions to accommodate the growing demand for live performances and a gathering place in the area. In 2024, it is celebrating dual birthdays — 150 years since its founding, and 100 years in its current building.

Administrative director Marianne Clark has been associated with the Lobero Theatre for the past 27 years in various capacities. “The Lobero is special because it not only hosts some of the most talented performers in the world, but it is also home to so many of the local arts,” she said. “It offers a little something for everyone.”

According to Clark, one of the Lobero’s board members once said of the iconic theatre, “It’s part Carnegie Hall, part town hall.”

Today, the Lobero stands as a beloved cultural landmark in Santa Barbara, known for its intimate atmosphere and superb acoustics. It hosts a diverse array of events, including concerts, plays, dance performances, comedy shows, and film screenings. The theater has played a significant role in shaping the local arts scene, providing a platform for both established and emerging artists to showcase their talents.

Allowing area youth to gain performance experience, and to learn more about the arts, are central goals for the Lobero. “We put a priority on youth and community programs. It’s a significant part of our identity and it keeps the Santa Barbara community engaged in what we have to offer,” noted Clark. Among the local youth and community groups that call the Lobero Theatre home are the Santa Barbara Vocal Jazz Foundation, Santa Barbara Youth Ensemble Theatre, State Street Ballet Academy, and the Brubeck Circle Jazz Residency.

Throughout its long history, the Lobero Theatre has welcomed countless legendary performers, musicians, actors, and dancers, making it a cherished destination for arts enthusiasts from around the world. Just a few of those legends include Blind Tom, Susan B. Anthony, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, Mickey Mouse, Isaac Stern, Orson Welles, Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, Richard Pryor, Tom Waits, Kenny Loggins, David Crosby, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jackson Browne, Betty White, Bo Diddley, Smashing Pumpkins, Yo-Yo Ma, Neil Young, Jack Johnson, and many more.

Its enduring legacy continues to contribute to the vibrant cultural fabric of Santa Barbara, ensuring that the magic of live performance remains alive and well in the community.

In 1924, the theater was extensively renovated and modernized by architect George Washington Smith, who preserved its historic charm while incorporating Spanish Colonial Revival elements into the design. According to Clark, the reopening also aligned with the first-ever Santa Barbara Old Spanish Days Fiesta Celebration. This year, both the “New Lobero” and Fiesta will celebrate their 100-year anniversaries.

As part of this summer’s centennial anniversary celebration, Santa Barbara locals and visitors to the area are in for a treat. On Aug. 10, the Lobero will be hosting a large block party, which will feature Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Ozomatli. The event is free and should be an afternoon to remember for those in attendance.

“This is going to be a huge event for us. It is a way for us to thank the Santa Barbara community for all of the support we’ve received over the years. We are really looking forward to it,” added Clark.

The Santa Barbara community offers a plethora of opportunities for locals and visitors to enjoy the arts, and the Lobero is just one of those offerings. Clark said, “We are so fortunate to have a wealth of great arts available to us here in Santa Barbara. We also have great relationships with other venues like the Santa Barbara Bowl and Arlington Theatre and support each other whenever possible. The arts community here is very special.”

If you are visiting Santa Barbara for the first time and you are looking for a little advice on how to make the most of your time in paradise, Clark notes, “Check out everything! Start with the zoo and our amazing gardens during the day and then enjoy one of our world-class restaurants before coming to the Lobero for a show in the evening.”

Lobero Building 1873

In addition to celebrating its 100th/150th year anniversary this summer, the Lobero will be hosting some epic performances in the coming months. Some highlights include Our House: The Music of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (July 10), An Evening with Charlie Musselwhite and Elvin Bishop (Aug. 23), Christopher Cross (Aug. 28), Toad the Wet Sprocket (Aug. 29), A Tribute to the Legendary Linda Ronstadt (Sept. 13), 
Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam (Sept. 24), Alfred Robles (Sept. 27), and much more. For a comprehensive list of offerings at the Lobero Theatre this summer and for more details about seating, pricing and other fun facts, lobero.org.

If you are new to the area or just in for a short visit, take it from me, an evening at the Lobero Theatre is a “can’t miss” experience. One of my all-time favorite live performances took place at the Lobero when I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov perform. The intimate setting of the theatre allowed me to be so close that I could actually hear him breathing. It was a performance that I will remember for the rest of my life.

So, treat yourself to a show at the Lobero and if you are going to be in town on Aug. 10, don’t forget to stop by the free block party performances by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Ozomatli.

For more information on the Lobero, visit lobero.org or call (805) 963-0761. The theatre is located at 33 E. Canon Perdido St, in the heart of Santa Barbara.

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