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National Designation for Historic Black Beach Takes Major Step Forward
By Jorge Casuso
May 28, 2019 -- Those who gather to celebrate Nick Gabaldón Day in Santa Monica on Saturday will be enjoying a stretch of sand at the end of Pico Boulevard that could soon be recognized as a national historic site.
The all-day event celebrating the pioneering surfer of black and Mexican American descent takes place three weeks after the site once frequented by black Angelenos took a step closer to landing a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
On May 8, the California State Historical Resources Commission (SHRC) voted unanimously to recommend that the state's preservation officer move forward with listing the Bay Street Historic District, which was once derogatorily known as “The Inkwell.”
"It has been a long time coming for this accomplishment to occur," said Alison R. Jefferson, a prominent black historian who is co-sponsoring the application with Sea of Clouds, a nonprofit that focuses on preserving coastal places.
"The Bay Street Historic District is an important honorific nomination for this site because it recognizes the social history, the intangible heritage of the site’s importance even though it is not based around a tangible architectural structure and aesthetics," Jefferson said.
More than 40 letters and nearly 350 signatures were submitted to the Commission in support of listing the Bay Street Beach Historic District ("Santa Monica Convention and Visitors," April 15, 2019).
If the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) approves the Commission's recommendation, the nomination will be sent to the National Park Service and the Keeper of the National Register, who will make the final designation
Saturday's 7th Annual Nick Gabaldón Day offers "an amazing opportunity for broadening outreach, action, and education to connect Angelenos with their cultural, historical and natural heritage," event organizers said.
The event was launched in 2013 when, with Jefferson's help, Heal the Bay joined forces with the Black Surfers Collective to expand their prior efforts to recognize the first documented minority surfer in the Santa Monica Bay.
Born in Los Angeles in 1927, Gabaldón lived most of his life in Santa Monica and was one of 50 African-American students to attend and graduate from Santa Monica High School in the 1940s.
As a teenager, he learned to surf at Ink Well Beach with a wooden surfboard borrowed from a friendly white lifeguard. After serving in the Navy during the closing months of WWII, he returned to Santa Monica and enrolled in Santa Monica College.
He soon learned the waves were higher and more challenging up the coast, but initially had difficulty making the 12-mile trip north to Malibu’s Surfrider Beach.
Not owning a car, he tried hitchhiking along PCH, but found that most drivers refused to stop for the tall, muscular African-American man, so Gabaldón began paddling on his surfboard across Santa Monica Bay.
His surfboard was found immediately, but his body washed ashore on Las Flores Beach a few days later and is now buried at Santa Monica’s Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery.
Nick Gabaldón Day kicks off at 9 a.m. Saturday with a welcome ceremony and a Memorial Paddle Out for Nick, followed by free surf lessons and a beach exploration and cleanup from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A raffle takes place at 12:30 p.m. followed by events at Heal the Bay’s Aquarium under the Santa Monica Pier from 1 to 5 p.m.
The indoor events include three documentaries and a childern's story time.
Aquarium Admission is free for the day thanks to a grant from the California Coastal Conservancy and the Wilderness Society.
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