The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Fleischmann Auditorium, a fixture on the Mission Canyon campus for more than eight decades, has been refreshed and enhanced, and is almost ready for its close-up.
The multipurpose building is officially reopening to the public next month after its $3.2 million makeover.
“I’m proud now of this space,” said Luke Swetland, the museum’s president and CEO. “It presents the face of the museum and everything we have been in our 100-plus year history, and how we are leaning everything into a brighter future.”
Improvements have been made to the interior and the exterior of the 3,200-square-foot, single-story auditorium, and the project includes energy-efficiency enhancements, new lighting, refinishing the wood paneling and seismic upgrades to the roof.
The flooring and stage were refurbished. The renovation also included installing new heating and air conditioning systems, and audio and visual equipment.
Renovation work includes improvements to meet wheelchair-accessibility needs, adding acoustical wall treatment and hanging baffles to improve sound absorption.
The official reopening of the auditorium will be the museum’s annual Folk & Tribal Arts Marketplace, Dec. 6-8.
Museum members, donors and leadership involved in the project, including Frank Schipper Construction Co., were provided a special tour Thursday to showcase the improvements.
The auditorium, designed by architect Chester Carjola, is a Spanish Colonial Revival-style building featuring plastered walls, hand-wrought metalwork and a large timbered open truss ceiling.
Eight chandelier fixtures with Native American motifs painted on stretched vellum were redone. The custom-made chandeliers, designed in the Mediterranean Revival-style, were specifically made for the auditorium.
The hanging lights were restored as part of the renovations.
“The chandeliers are beautiful to look at,” project manager Barbara Barker said. “They are historic.”
All the improvements were made in about a year, she noted.
The cooling system is a major benefit.
The air-conditioned auditorium allows appropriate temperature levels to house specimens for special exhibits and it gives the ability to host “more exhibits than in the past because we didn’t have climate controls” before the renovation, Barker said.
Small restorations were made to improve the building’s functionality over the decades, but the auditorium has never been modified in any way that would detract from its original architecture and aesthetics. The space is fundamentally sound and the museum remains committed to preserving the design elements.
“It’s about the balance of how to preserve everything authentic and historic, but make it look as good as it did the day it was built 80-plus years ago,” Swetland said.
The auditorium has been at the forefront of museum activity since opening in 1938 at 2559 Puesta del Sol behind the Santa Barbara Mission.
It’s home to several public gatherings, lectures, science-based traveling exhibits, community organizations and other events. In addition, it’s frequently booked for private events.
The auditorium seats about 350.
Renovations were needed to continue serving museum visitors and maintain the facility’s essential position in the area.
“It’s a statement about the museum’s commitment to taking care of this campus and making something available to Santa Barbara,” Swetland said of the auditorium project.