I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Santa Monica,” longtime resident Carolyne Edwards shares. She recalls the freedom of riding bicycles around the neighborhood with friends in the summer, making crafts like bottle cap dolls, and learning piano from her mother and grammar from her father.
With her husband Bill, Carolyne has been running the Quinn Research Center, which aims to preserve and promote the history of the Black community in the Santa Monica Bay area.
Today, “Santa Monica is completely different from when we were kids,” Carolyne describes. “Before Third Street was ‘the Promenade,’it was just ‘downtown,’ where we could go to the Red Goose shoe store and see our feet under an X-ray.” Many of the mom-and-pop stores and landmarks of her youth are gone, which is, Carolyne says, one of the reasons they are trying to get the Santa Monica City Council to recognize the historically Black Broadway community as a Historic District.
“In order to build for the future, you have to build from the foundation of the past,” Carolyne believes. “You learn from the things that you would like to improve on.” She cites the preservation of the last unmodified “shotgun house” in Santa Monica (now in Ocean Park) as an important landmark. Carolyne is also a member of the Philomatheans, the African American women’s club that houses three businesses in their building on Broadway and will celebrate their centennial in 2021. “People don’t know, unless they’re exposed to this history.”
When Carolyne was a student at Samohi, “History to me was just memorizing dates. I didn’t see the relevance,” she says. With the Quinn Research Center, they “try to make it relevant to people,” asking questions like, “what was going on in the world in December 1945, and how does that relate to Santa Monica? Who was in Santa Monica at that time? How did it impact their lives?”
The Center started with Carolyne’s own family history: the “stories, facts and items that my parents and grandparents thought that we should have a knowledge of and pass on down.” It has since become a community project, which involves interviewing people in their homes (and now, during the pandemic, by phone) to collect oral histories. In the process, interviewees often refer family or friends who can add their memories to the record. It’s a chance to highlight historically underrepresented stories and, often, to set the record straight – including the terminology for Bay Street Beach, the historic gathering place for Black beachgoers. The official Santa Monica plaque installed in 2008 uses the derogatory term as its title. “We just called it ‘the beach,’” Carolyne says.
With the Quinn Research Center, “We are doing the same thing” as the generations before her, Carolyne says. “We pass this knowledge on.”
For more information about the Quinn Research Center, please call 818-365-0785, or visit quinnresearchcenter.com.
By Anne Wallentine