Originally built in 1936 by the Federally-funded Works Progress Administration (WPA) program, this 4,500-seat outdoor amphitheater is located in a dramatic ravine overlooking Santa Barbara. It provides a full range of music performances, including classical, pop, country-western, blues, jazz and rock and roll. In the 1980’s, changing performance requirements, the impact of amplified sound and traffic and increased residential density surrounding the amphitheater led the County Parks Department to undertake a master plan to address potential changes. Blake Middleton FAIA of Handel Architects, in collaboration with Santa Barbara-based DesignARC Inc, were selected to develop a detailed master plan to address each of the major issues at the Bowl, and Mr. Middleton has led the design of each structure since 1993.
Since 1998, five of phases of work have been completed. These include the Stage Production Platform, earth stabilization and water management infrastructure, a new visitor’s pavilion (the McCaw Pavilion) and the new Stage Pavilion. In making these improvements, the design challenge was to preserve the rustic character of the site and its distinctive structures while transforming a dilapidated amphitheater complex into a modern performance venue. Original retaining walls were retained wherever possible and new stone facing was created from recovered on-site material.
The Stage Pavilion itself evokes the elemental building forms of 1930’s park structures. It is composed of three parts: two large cut-stone piers over 40’ high bracketing a 60’ proscenium opening; the angular roof composed of steel trusses, wood decking (to attenuate noise) and copper roof; and the “shell”, in gridded stucco, with steel clad barn doors opening on either side and the rear. A back stage lift provides full accessibility for performers from the dressing rooms below. Adjacent to the Stage Pavilion, the McCaw Pavilion is set into the hillside, preserving the oak trees surrounding it. The pavilion replaces a 1960’s house that was built perched above the original restroom structure. The stone retaining walls and arches contain new concession services on the Plaza level and a concert club and reception area on the second floor. Set upon the curvilinear wood deck overlooking the city, the McCaw Pavilion echoes the Stage Pavilion with a copper roof and with steel trusses sheltering the reception room and bathrooms beneath.
One of the most unique qualities of the Santa Barbara Bowl is the beautiful rustic setting in which the performance facility is built. Just inside the Bowl’s grounds, concertgoers step through the elegant Angie and Stephen Redding gate and enter the Bowl’s lobby: a natural outdoor wooded glen, densely planted with specimen oaks and lush banks of plantings indigenous to Santa Barbara. As both the first thing the concert-goer experiences when arriving and the last thing they see before leaving, it was important that the Glen be an experience on par with the on-stage performance itself.