Funk Zone History
History of the Santa Barbara Funk Zone
Santa Barbara wasn’t always home to the Oprah’s, Ellen’s and multi-multi millionaires. Once upon a time, Santa Barbara was an affordable middle-class community. But those days are long gone. As Don Henley sung, in The Eagles song “The Last Resort,” you call something paradise, you can kiss it goodbye.
But wait, there lies an area in Santa Barbara that hasn’t YET entirely been usurped by the wealthy. It’s called the Funk Zone, and it sits just east of State Street, west of Garden Street, stretching from the ocean to the freeway.
The Funk Zone is, without a doubt, Santa Barbara’s hippest area to hang out in. But don’t tell the Cruise Shippers that! You know what they say: You can lead a Cruise Shipper to land but you can’t lead a Cruise Shipper to the Promised Land – just to more tourist shops to buy crap.
The Funk Zone is home to an eclectic variety of art galleries, wineries, breweries, restaurants, surf shops, and more. If you took the Hep Cats from Silver Lake and asked them to create their own Venice Beach, you might have something like the Funk Zone.
In the early 20thCentury, the area was home to several manufacturing and marine companies, like the Lockheed Corporation, and the Castagnola Brothers’ fishing industry. For much of the rest of the century, it remained a kind of dilapidated industrial district, the “Cannery Row” of Santa Barbara. That is, until funk master James Brown came through town in 1995 and put the area on the hipster map for good.
As the mythical legend goes, Brown and his entourage were passing through Santa Barbara on their way to San Diego, to play a gig at Humphrey’s, when one of the cars in their entourage broke down on the side of the 101 Freeway. Brown was pissed at the hold-up, and staggered out of his limo and got into a loud shouting match, near brawl, with his tour manager Alan Leeds. Brown ended up deserting the entourage and storming off in the direction of the ocean.
Once down Santa Barbara’s industrial zone rabbit hole, Brown ran into some local artists and musicians who were partying in an industrial lot. Taken with the music, and the smell of pungent herb in the air, Brown stopped to say hello. He ended up hanging out well past sundown, sharing not only his partying gifts, but also his musical spirit, improvising a song he called: “The Funk Zone.” The next morning, the story hit the local papers and The Funk Zone was on the map.
A few members of the community, who were lucky enough to be present that historic night, have been petitioning the city to change the name of the street which runs through the Zone from Yanonali to James Brown Funk Zone Blvd. As of this writing, that hasn’t happened.