Granada Theatre

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 28, 2024

Are you wondering why there’s a whole lot of hoopla about the Granada Theatre 100th birthday beyond merely marking a major milestone? First, perhaps, pivot over to Hattie Beresford’s comprehensive column The Way It Was (page 22) in this issue. That piece traces the history of the grand old theater – from its vaudeville days to its current position as a center of performing arts in downtown Santa Barbara. But may we also suggest heading downtown to the Granada this Wednesday, April 3, when a new commissioned documentary short, The Granada: Celebrating 100 Years of the Arts in Santa Barbara, has its world premiere. 

Through 100 years of community donations and generous support, the Granada has become the state-of-the-art facility that stands today (courtesy photo)

The film is a jam-packed half-hour directed by April Wright, the filmmaker behind such celebrated feature docs as Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-in Movie (2011) and Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story (2020). The film uses a different media to delve into the rich history of the Granada from its origins as a silent movie palace to its place as a premier Warner Bros movie theater and now, once again, a hub for the arts. The doc is packed with archival photographs, dozens of interviews and shots of the grand and glorious Granada as it stands today. After the film finishes being projected on the hi-definition screen above the stage, Wright will join film historian Ross Melnick and special guests in a Q&A as part of the free event. 

One person who won’t need such an education update is Palmer Jackson, Jr., the Granada’s Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, whose family’s time in town and as patrons of the theater date back to its earliest days. 

“My great grandfather, who owned what is now Lotusland and passed away in 1930 sat in the Granada to watch vaudeville shows and movies,” Jackson said. “My grandfather attended a lot more events at the Granada than his dad, and, of course, my parents have been going to the Granada since they’ve lived here since the 1960s. That’s four generations of Jacksons that have gone to the Granada since it opened. My kids, too, so that makes it five.” 

So, Jackson said, when Michael Towbes asked him to join the Granada’s board of directors about a decade ago, saying yes was a no-brainer for the musician who at the time had sat on the Lobero’s board. And he’s proud as could be to be the chairman for such a jewel in the crown of the arts in Santa Barbara. 

“The Granada is state-of-the-art with the right size stage, fantastic dressing rooms, the upgraded lighting and new sound system and all of the facilities, which are just awesome,” Jackson said. “As I have often said, Santa Barbara has outsized cultural assets for its size – more culture than it should for a town this small. We have our own opera company, our own symphony and ballet – all of which reside at the Granada.”

State Street Ballet, Opera Santa Barbara, and the Santa Barbara Symphony are just some of the organizations that call the Granada “home” (courtesy photo)

Indeed, there are five other local performing arts organizations that are resident companies at the Granada, which sets the theater apart from others in town and in most communities. Plus, the theater partners with American Theatre Guild to bring touring Broadway shows to town with far more facilities for staging and far more comfort for the crowd than at, say, the Arlington. 

As part of the 100th anniversary, this year’s major fundraising event, The Granada Legends, has actually chosen itself as the cultural organization honoree, Jackson said. 

“We’re going to honor two of our founding board members, Joan Rutkowski and Susan Gulbransen, who did so much in making the Granada what it is today.” 

The gala is a black-tie event where the audience is seated on stage, but Jackson took pains to emphasize that almost every other event at the theater is far more casual – something that’s necessary to point out because people take one look at the gorgeous venue with its well-appointed features and might feel intimated. 

“It seems so fancy and ornate that people might think they’re out of place here,” Jackson said, “But everybody and anybody in Santa Barbara belongs at the Granada.”

Jackson’s family hasn’t only been attendees and staff members – they’ve also been significant philanthropists of the arts, having donated upwards of $1 million to the Granada over the years through the family foundation, he said. 

The chairman and his family are among many who treasure the downtown center, however. 

“Because of our generous donors and our board and the community, we’re on really solid financial footing. probably the best financial position we’ve been in our history,” Jackson said. “But the need to raise money never stops, and that helps us support our resident companies and bring more great programming to the Granada.”  


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