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Frank Gruber to Shine Light on Lost Belmar Triangle  

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By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

September 29, 2011 -- As Santa Monica embarks on a new phase of development, it can be easy to lose sight of its history as an amalgam of changing, lively neighborhoods, each with its own character.

One of the most vibrant neighborhoods – the Belmar Triangle – may be a distant memory to many, but it will brought to life again as Columnist Frank Gruber shares what he's learned about the city's once-thriving black community at the Marion Davies Beach House Monday night.

“I first learned about the Belmar Triangle neighborhood and what happened to it about 10 years ago when the city was running workshops to revise the Civic Center Specific Plan,” Gruber told The Lookout Wednesday.

“An older African-American woman regularly attended the workshops,” he said. “I learned that she was there because...she had grown up in Belmar.

“That got me curious, and I started doing research,” Gruber said.

Bounded by Pico Boulevard and Main and Fourth streets, the Belmar Triangle was the heart of the African-American community in Santa Monica in the first half of the 20th century. Its businesses and homes were just a few blocks away from “the Inkwell,” as the stretch of beach were blacks congregated was known.

In the 1950's, city leaders decided they needed to improve Santa Monica to attract tourists, so they condemned the black-owned properties and destroyed them so that they could build the Civic Auditorium in their place.

City officials watching over the burning of a house in Belmar Triangle neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Santa Monica Public Library Image Archive

Although the properties in the Belmar Triangle had been declared blighted to justify their destruction, the Civic Auditorium itself soon became known as a white elephant, in an example of what Gruber calls “convulsive urbanism.”

“What you find out is that convulsive development, even though it's usually touted as a solution to problems, does not create stability, and I'd say that's what we've seen with the Civic Auditorium site,” he said.

As Gruber reviews the neighborhood's history, he'll also talk about future plans for the area, plans which will transform the civic center once again.

“The story of the destruction of the Belmar Triangle has a lot of lessons for the present,” Gruber said.

“Perhaps the most profound is the realization that despite the fact that we are usually focussed on the present, most places have a history, and once you know that history, that affects the way you look at the present,” he said.

A lawyer by trade, Gruber has delved into urban planning in a big way, and served on Santa Monica's Planning Commission for four years in the 1990's. His weekly column for The Lookout, “What I Say,” is into its eleventh year, and is the basis of his book “Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal,” published by City Image Press and available on Amazon and at Hennessey & Ingalls in Santa Monica. Gruber is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, where he writes about urban planning.

Gruber's talk will begin at 6:30 p.m. Plan to arrive by 6:15 to retain your reservation. Tickets are free, but reservations are recommended. Please reserve online.

The Marion Davies Beach House is located at 415 Pacific Coast Highway. There is an hourly parking charge and pay machines are available at the lot. There is ample bike parking at racks throughout the site.

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