Santora Birthday Celebration Brings Out Santa Ana Visionaries

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A group of downtown Santa Ana artists Saturday honored Artists Village founder Don Cribb and members of the City Council who helped him realize his vision during a celebration of the Santora Arts Building’s 84th birthday.

Cribb conceived of the village, which has become a downtown hot spot in recent years, in the mid-1970s. It was officially established in the early 1990s by a city council that included current Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, who joined Cribb and other council members from that era at Saturday’s celebration.

“You can always tell the pioneers because they’re the ones with the arrows in their back,” said former City Councilman Tom Lutz. “And I had a lot of arrows in my back.”

The celebration is part of a larger effort by the downtown artists to raise their profile and fight what they consider an effort to squeeze them out of downtown as it becomes more gentrified.

It also comes after the aborted sale of the building to Irvine-based Newsong Church. After creating a big stir in the downtown community with many voicing censorship fears, the church backed out of the deal last month. Owner Mike Harrah still has the building up for sale. 

The party — which was filled with the sounds of 1920s jazz, vaudeville models and a makeshift speakeasy in the basement — was thrown as part of an effort by a new artists organization, United Artists of Santa Ana (UASA), to renew attention on the arts and help artists sell their work.

“It was an amazing event,” said Alicia Rojas, co-founder of UASA. “It was very inspiring to see the community come together and celebrate the arts.”

It was a rare scene in Orange County, said Doc and Rosalie, a visiting couple from Tustin who read about the party in the local newspaper. “It’s not typical Orange County. It’s really fun,” Rosalie said. “It’s a reason to come to Santa Ana.”

The grandfather of the Santora building, Joseph Hawa, was given the artist-of-the-year award. The 76-year-old Hawa choked back tears as dozens looked on from within the building’s main hall.

“Art is not brush and paint,” Hawa said. “It’s what we think … transferred to the canvas.”

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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