Granada, the Great

By Steven Libowitz   |   November 18, 2021
The Granada Theatre will not only have the new-look Plaza Granada, but also features a new sound system

It’s purely coincidence that this week’s Montecito Journal hits newsstands the same day the Granada Theatre officially unveils Plaza Granada, a new pathway to the theater and the historic arts district in downtown Santa Barbara with a private ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Plaza transforms the formerly barren parking lot behind the theater and the previously dark and often grungy pedestrian walkway to State Street into a safer, more accessible, and far more aesthetically pleasing space for both the public and those loading in for a show at the theater. 

The Plaza is a publicly palpable example of philanthropy in action. It was the late longtime Granada supporter Michael Towbes who originally envisioned the Plaza’s upgrade many years ago as part of the theater’s original restoration. The long-awaited and meticulously planned $2 million project also features improved lighting and pavement upgrades, as well as improvements to parking and drop-off facilities for buses and trucks utilizing the backstage entrance of the theater as well as a new performing arts-themed mural installation created by local Santa Barbara muralists Tracy Lee Stum and Sayak Mitra lining the walkway. 

“The project was a real beast that took a dozen years to get done,” explained Palmer Jackson, Jr., the Granada’s executive chairman and a Montecito resident. “The walkway is great, and the rest of the project is also important because the buses would park there and there was no way for them to turn around, or plug in for power, or for trucks to load in easily – all things that are necessary for the big shows we have at the theater. Now there are two discrete parking areas for the buses and big upgrades to the pavement as well as the walkway and beautiful mural.”

Admittedly, pavement and parking spaces aren’t particularly glamorous. So, here’s another more exciting example of how dollars donated to the Granada can make a big difference in the Santa Barbara cultural community.

Were it not for the original $70 million renovation to the building that was previously being used as a cut-up movie triplex, there’s no way that Sara Miller McCune — another major contributor to the Granada — would have even considered bringing Kismet to town to celebrate her 80th birthday. That in turn would have deprived Santa Barbara of an experience that galvanized theater lovers with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a Broadway show created from the ground up exclusively for locals and featuring both the Santa Barbara Symphony and State Street Ballet, two of the Granada’s resident companies. That it went off without a hitch even during the lingering COVID pandemic was a perfect demonstration of what the theater can accomplish.

“That was a very big deal,” Palmer said. “The fact that we pulled it off with a pretty lean staff was a triumph. We had to furlough 25 people at the beginning of the pandemic, and we still don’t have as many people as we need. I was pretty impressed by the show and everybody in the audience seemed to love it. It was a wonderful lift for everyone, a reminder of what we’re capable of and a celebration of being together again in a full theater.”

The thing is, Kismet might not have been so successful if it had taken place back on its original date of last February, as the October show was just the second presentation to feature the Granada’s new sound system, another behind-the-scenes project that makes a big difference once the curtain comes up. The $1 million system was designed by producer/sound engineer Allen Sides, a veteran of more than half a century who has recorded more than 500 albums and won five Grammy Awards. Sides, a part-time Santa Barbara resident who served on the Granada’s board, came to a show with Towbes a few years back and noticed the sound wasn’t as good as it could be. 

“He proposed a custom-built speaker system for us that he would design and build using newer technology that increases clarity across the theater and actually provides true stereo sound, which our previous system couldn’t do,” Jackson explained. 

Fast forward to the end of fundraising for that project, which was installed while the theater was dark for the pandemic and debuted just in time for mid-October’s production of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from Opera Santa Barbara, another resident company at the Granada. A week later, every word and musical harmony of Kismet sounded crisp and clear from every one of the theater’s 1,500 seats due to the state-of-the-art system. 

“The average person definitely doesn’t know about that project, but it really makes a difference,” Jackson explained. 

So clearly Kismet was, as Jackson put it, a “shot in the arm for the performing arts community.” 

But why does that even matter? 

For Jackson, the answer is pretty clear. 

“The thriving arts community that we have in Santa Barbara is part of why people move here and want to live here. We have a way outsized quality of arts here for our size, and that attracts a lot of the more philanthropically oriented people. And in turn that just helps everybody because the people who give to the arts are also the ones who give to human services. It’s not a zero-sum game.” 

Gifts to the Granada include one-time or monthly donations, planned giving, and donation of stock or equities. Visit or call (805) 899-3000.


The Granada Theatre

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Vice President for Advancement: Jill Seltzer


The Granada Theatre — owned and operated by the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts — serves Santa Barbara by providing a vibrant, state-of-the-art venue where world-class artistic performances are available to the widest possible audience, promoting appreciation for the performing arts and enhancing the quality of life in our community.

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We’re grateful to be a resident company of the beautiful Granada Theatre. Our community is so lucky to have a venue that can house full-scale ballets, operas, and musical theatre. It speaks to the incredible hunger for artistic excellence in Santa Barbara. I hope we can all continue to support this historic theatre, and bring the very best to our audiences for generations to come.
Megan Philipp, State Street Ballet Artistic Director

The Granada Theatre:
Keeping the Performing Arts Flourishing for all of Santa Barbara

A gift to the Granada Theatre not only supports this home for the performing arts in a time when it’s crucial to empower this sometimes increasingly endangered cornerstone of our culture, but also because the Granada Theatre supports and subsidizes eight different companies from disciplines that cover the entire spectrum of the performing arts: CAMA (Community Arts Music Association of Santa Barbara), the American Theater Guild, the Santa Barbara Choral Society, Opera Santa Barbara, State Street Ballet, the Santa Barbara Symphony, the Music Academy, and UCSB Arts & Lectures. 

A donation to The Granada Theatre celebrates the hundred years that the theater has presented and supported the performing arts for all of Santa Barbara and helps to ensure that it will be around for another 100 years for future audiences to enjoy as well.

Board of Directors

Palmer Jackson, Jr., Chairman
F. Robert Miller III, Vice Chairman
Dan Burnham, Immediate Past Chairman
Merryl Snow Zegar, Secretary
Roberta Griffin, Treasurer
Sarah Schlinger Chrisman, At Large
Yvette Birch Giller, At Large
Tariqh Akoni
Leslie Bains
Brooks Firestone
Rick Fogg
Janet Garufis
Charles C. Gray
Jamie Maguire
Stephanie Nicks
Maria Schmidt