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The fate of the Christmas tradition of Nativity Scenes in Palisades Park will be decided Tuesday, May 22.
Photo by Leslie Miranda
The fate of the Christmas tradition of Nativity Scenes in Palisades Park will be decided Tuesday, May 22.

News, Parks, Santa Monica

Santa Monica Business Leaders Voice Support For Continuing Nativity Scenes

Posted May. 21, 2012, 2:45 am

Mirror Staff

When the Santa Monica City Council meets this Tuesday, May 22, there is expected to be a vote on the future of the Nativity Scenes that appear each year in Palisades Park.

Business leaders who helped start the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes in 1953 as well as business leaders today are voicing support for continuing the Christmas tradition in Palisades Park in its hour of trial.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie has recommended the City Council vote to ban all displays on May 22, including the Nativity Scenes, from Palisades Park. Nativity Scenes backers have proposed designating the two display blocks a December holiday decoration forum and reforming application rules instead.

Barring the Scenes from Palisades Park would be a sad loss to the city’s sense of community, said Susan Gabriel Potter, owner of ISU Bob Gabriel Insurance Co. and a Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Executive Board member.

“It brings the spirit of the holiday season to Santa Monica,” she said. “It has been a tradition for almost 60 years in Santa Monica as well as a tradition in my family. My father took me to the Scenes when I was a girl, and I took my children to the Nativity Scenes every holiday season, and I’m sure this is true for many, many families.”

Her father, insurance agent and ardent community advocate Bob Gabriel, was a devoted supporter of the Nativity Scenes for more than a half-century. He was its fund-raising chairman at the time of his death in 2007. His daughter has stepped into that role in association with her mother, Louise Gabriel, the president of the Santa Monica History Museum.

Aiming to attract more visitors and shoppers to town, the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce partnered with community churches to start the display in 1953. The business alliance continued as a major donor and organizer until 1982, when tough financial times forced its exit.

Numerous Santa Monica businesses continue to support the Scenes, and Potter has been collecting endorsements for the longtime celebration from commercial leaders.

Others in insurance and finance on Potter’s list of endorsers include Damian J. Valdivia of White & Company Insurance; Dave Nelson of Tegner-Miller Insurance Brokers; Dick Lawrence of National Bank of California, Brentwood Branch, and his wife, Char.

John Bohn, chief executive and founder of The Bradmore Group, an industrial real estate firm in Santa Monica with statewide operations, said the Scenes continue to draw visitors to the city.

“There are people who come from all over the area and outside the city limits of Santa Monica to look at those Scenes," Bohn said. "It’s traditional and an important item in the Christmas holidays.”

He said he and his children and grandchildren go every year.

“It’s part of the Christmas holiday season for us,” he said.

Another endorser from the real estate field on Potter’s list is Dr. Michael Gruning. -- a longtime Santa Monica optometrist is now with real estate firm Pence Hathorn Silver.

Ron Davis, owner of Santa Monica Ford Lincoln Subaru, said the universal hope the Scenes demonstrate in supporting the display.

Bill Rinker, manager of Toyota Santa Monica, a member of the LACarGuy group, also said he endorsed the Scenes.

Also voicing support for the nearly 60-year-old display were architect David Forbes Hibbert; businesswomen Susan Inwood and Jean McNeil Wyner, former Chamber of Commerce chairman; Mary Ann Powell of Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier; and Jenna Linnekens of Extraordinary Events.

Retailers endorsing the Scenes included Edward Guerboian, owner of Readers Fine Jewelers and former Chamber of Commerce chairman; Paul Leoni, owner of Patton’s Pharmacy; and Paul Fuller of Carpet Craft.

Potter said she would continue her efforts to ask business leaders to e-mail the City Council or attend the meeting starting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 22, to support the Nativity Scenes.

In her e-mail to them, she wrote, “It could make all the difference as to whether this tradition will be saved or become past history.”

Post a comment


May. 21, 2012, 3:53:11 am

Jean McNeil Wyner said...

Great article!

May. 21, 2012, 8:25:40 am

debbie Travis said...

I just moved to Santa Monica last year from Redondo beach and was looking forward to walking to the nativity scenes with my niece. To my horror- instead there were some scary athiest inspired scenes. Please don't do away with this beautiful tradition. Anything that promotes family tradition should be encouraged.

May. 21, 2012, 2:03:39 pm

Bill Egan said...

The figures look like something discarded by a department store in 1950. The displays are downright tacky. This should be an artistic display; not some worn out Christmas decoration assembled by cub scouts. Don't you have any artists in Santa Monica?

May. 22, 2012, 2:58:31 am

Carol Agate said...

Why? Because the display is a violation of the first amendment prohibiting the government from endorsing a religion. Have you considered how non-Christians feel about a Christian display in a public park? There are churches in town with lawns that could hold the display. Why doesn't one of them invite the other churches to assemble their scenes on one of their lawns?

May. 21, 2012, 4:11:49 pm

Connie Cole said...

I think that the beautiful Christmas story of Mary's journey up to Jesus's birth should be kept on display in the park but I have to agree that they do look somewhat old and tired. Perhaps the city could have a contest to draw out artists to create more beautiful, polished, professional looking displays?

May. 21, 2012, 7:03:17 pm

Johnboy said...

This article says nothing about WHY the city attorney wants them banned. Is it financial?

May. 22, 2012, 5:33:54 am

Sharon said...

@ Bill Egan: The scenes tell the story and they are part of a tradition, they should not be changed in any way whatsoever. And, the fact that they are older and have been displayed for so long are part of the charm. Everything doesn't have to be "state of the art" there IS something to tradition.

May. 22, 2012, 10:17:27 am

Dee said...

Why is this even up for a vote? I suspect that it's part of the ever burgeoning push to secularize every aspect of our community.

May. 22, 2012, 10:22:56 am

Dee said...

@Carol--you have the 1st amendment all wrong--don't forget the part about not abridging the "Free exercise of religion." The government doesn't even PAY for this, so there is no way to say it is is an endorsement of a particular religion by the city. I think you need to do a gut check as to whether your 'offense' is against Christianity or whether it's really against all religions. The city also allows displays of menorahs, for example. Do you find that an offensive 'endorsement' of religion? What if you see other holiday traditions celebrated--for Islam or for Buddhism? I do not find displays of other religious holidays to be offensive to me....even when they're not my religion. You act like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are pornography. Get over it.

May. 22, 2012, 4:20:25 pm

Darling Sierra said...

What is going happen next are this people try to change the name of the city too?

May. 22, 2012, 8:37:55 am

Cheryl said...

The figures look like rejected store mannequins from long ago. They need to be replaced with a different type of figure and given an artistic setting. Figures in a Nativity Scene shouldn't be posed looking out at the viewer. That's okay for a store mannequin and a reason for replacing these figures. The setting with the donkey on a box needs to be redone by artists. Someone needs to do a Google search for "creche art" to get input from people who specialize in this type of artistic endeavor.

May. 22, 2012, 9:21:45 am

Bill Egan said...

@ Sharon. I am a staunch supporter of displaying the "Art of The Nativity" every December. It's a wonderful tradition, however discarded clothing store mannequins that should have been put on a garbage heap at least five decades ago, are an insult to all who truly appreciate this type of art. Joseph can't look at Jesus because he was created to look directly at shoppers in a store. He's wearing a Halloween beard and looks more like someone going to a zombie ball than a figure in a manger scene. Mary, in a short dress can't look at Jesus, can't bend her knees or do anything but stand there next to some bizarre green animal while looking out at shoppers. No doubt, there was a time when she projected a wonderful "charm" as she modeled the latest fashions at Sears but she doesn't belong in a scene like this. The shepherd boy is also looking out at shoppers, instead of at Jesus. It will be wonderful if there can be some way to continue the Nativity Scene tradition in Santa Monica with an artistic depiction of the event instead of this tawdry, tacky scene.

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