The Lobero Theatre

The Lobero Theatre is California’s oldest continuously operating theatre, named after its founder, Jose Lobero, who was born in Italy and was given the name Giuseppe. Jose loved opera so much that he bought an old schoolhouse at the corner of what is now Anacapa and Canon Perdido streets, did significant remodeling, and in 1873 opened the 1,300-seat theatre. It quickly became the heart of cultural activities in Santa Barbara, but as with many of the buildings described in this column, by 1922 the building was in great need of repairs. After evaluating the possibility of refurbishing the existing wood and adobe structure, the Community Arts Association bought the building and hired George Washington Smith to design a new structure.

The present day building is organized in three distinct masses. The entry portico is a one-story (almost tacked on) mass that faces Canon Perdido Street, while the middle section steps up one level and contains the auditorium. The tallest section soars 70 feet above grade and contains the stage and backstage areas. Designed with Smith’s strong hand in his beloved Mediterranean style, the building’s shear mass, lack of fenestration (i.e. windows and doors) and super-sized moldings and scuppers dominates its neighborhood. Attesting to the attractiveness of Santa Barbara, the theatre has hosted many great artists over the years including (but certainly not limited to) Lionel Barrymore, Bela Lugosi, Vladimir Horowitz, Clark Gable, Ingrid Bergman, Igor Stravinsky, Tyrone Power, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patrick Stewart.