The Lobero is California’s oldest, continuously operating theatre. Originally founded in 1873 and rebuilt in 1924, it is recognized as one of Santa Barbara’s architectural jewels and a State and City landmark.
From its earliest days, the Lobero has been Santa Barbara’s grand stage for both community and professional performances.
The Lobero flourished in the 1920s with a glittering golden era of “preview performances” for Hollywood. Stage greats Lionel Barrymore, Tallulah Bankhead, and Bela Lugosi, as well as young musicians Vladimir Horowitz and Sergei Rachmaninoff, were among the giants who trod the Lobero Stage.
In the 1940s the talent that came to the Lobero was dazzling in review. A favorite stop for performances between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Lobero hosted such stars as Dame Judith Anderson, Clark Gable, Basil Rathbone, Ingrid Bergman, Igor Stravinsky, Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Martha Graham, Betty Grable and Tyrone Power.
The Lobero’s noted jazz history began in 1949 with with Nappy La Marre and the Dixie Land Bobcats, with the Bay City Jazz. From then on the Lobero has consistently presented jazz in a wide variety of formats, hosting the “Who’s Who” of the jazz world including Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Ray Brown, Roy Haynes and many more.
Recent stars include Lynn Redgrave, Jerome Lowenthal, Bobby McFerrin, Marilyn Horne, John Cleese, Jeff, Beau, and Lloyd Bridges, Kathy Bates, Tracy Chapman, John Raitt, James Whitmore, McCoy Tyner, Charles Lloyd, Hal Holbrook, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Carol Burnett, Dave Brubeck, Michael Feinstein, Debbie Reynolds, and Patrick Stewart.
It is the home stage to most of the major performing arts groups in Santa Barbara including Opera Santa Barbara, State Street Ballet, Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, Speaking of Stories, Sings Like Hell, CAMA’s Masterseries, Santa Barbara Youth Symphony, Flamenco Arts Festival, Santa Barbara Theatre, Music Academy of the West, and many others.
Here are a few highlights of the Lobero’s history.
- On Washington’s Birthday 1873, Jose Lobero (born “Giuseppe” in Genoa, Italy) opened California’s only opera house south of San Francisco on the site of an old wooden schoolhouse at Canon Perdido and Anacapa streets. It featured a suspended horseshoe balcony and could seat 1,300. At the time of its opening, the Lobero was the largest adobe building in California and soon established itself as the cultural heart of Santa Barbara.
- In 1922 the Community Arts Association purchased the old Lobero, which had fallen into disrepair, and turned to the community for the support to build a new theatre. Over $180,000 was raised in less than a month, and plans for a new theatre, designed by George Washington Smith and Lutah Maria Riggs, began.
- On August 4, 1924, today’s Lobero opened its doors with a gala production of Beggar on Horseback. Santa Barbara celebrated the opening with the inaugural Fiesta which was the predecessor of today’s Fiesta and Old Spanish Days.
- The theatre’s Mediterranean style was adopted as an architectural model after the 1925 earthquake.
- In 1938 the Lobero Theatre Foundation was incorporated as a 501 (c 3) organization and to this day manages, maintains, preserves and programs the Lobero Theatre.
- December 1949 is when the first jazz performance is presented on the Lobero stage, kicking off a long and enduring legacy as Santa Barbara’s premier destination for live jazz.
- The state-mandated seismic renovation of the Lobero Theatre began in 1993 and took more than four years to complete. Over 4,600 gifts from the community were received to reach the $3 million goal for the project.
- In June 1996, the Lobero Theatre Foundation received the deed to the theatre from the County of Santa Barbara. The Lobero Theatre Foundation now owns the theatre, which it has operated since 1938.
- On August 19, 1997, the City of Santa Barbara’s Redevelopment Agency forgave a $468,000 loan for the seismic work.
- Dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov took the stage for five special solo evenings at the Lobero in 1998. The Lobero is by far the smallest venue the dancer has appeared in for over 25 years.
- In 2000, the Lobero Theatre Foundation embarked on an ambitious plan to renovate the most fundamental aspects of any theatre’s infrastructure: the lighting, rigging and sound systems. The stage renovation is completed on-budget and in plenty of time for a return visit by Baryshnikov for five sold-out performances in May 2002.
- Courtyard Fund was kicked off in February 2001. Over the next two years, the Lobero Associates raised more than $265,000 for the beautification of the back patio. Construction began mid-March and was completed on time and on budget on June 28, 2003. The patio is now used for receptions, dinners and special events.
- In 2003, Churchill’s Jewelry store owner Dick Kern discovered an old trombone in the attic of his building, once a music store. Instrument expert Nick Rail confirms that it may have belonged to Jose Lobero. It is placed on view in the Lobero Theatre lobby.
- In August 2004, the Lobero Theatre Foundation interred a new time capsule in the Lobero Courtyard, to be opened in twenty years for the Lobero’s 100th anniversary.
- The Foundation launches its Endowment for Excellence in 2006 in four areas: Dance, American Roots Music, Theatre and Classical Music. Proceeds from the endowment will ensure that the world’s finest performers continue to appear on the Lobero stage.
- In testament to the Lobero Theatre Foundation’s continued efforts to present quality jazz and American roots performances in a cherished historic setting, the Lobero Theatre is recognized in 2011 as one of the Best Places to See Jazz by DownBeat Magazine, the pre-eminent publication of the jazz and roots genre for the last 76 years