Santa Rosa, our long nightmare is over: the Luther Burbank Center is called the Luther Burbank Center again.
The performing arts complex, befouled for the past 10 years with the name "the Wells Fargo Center," today announced the news of the Center's name going forward. The resurrection of the name "The Luther Burbank Center," which goes into effect on March 12, is the result of Wells Fargo's 10-year naming rights deal running out and, according to today's press release, an additional annual donation by the Lytton Rancheria.
You can read details here, but right now, I want to get down to business and simply speak for every Santa Rosan by saying: FINALLY, FINALLY, GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY, FINALLY.
Nobody likes naming-rights deals, and here in the Bay Area we have to endure ridiculous titles like "AT&T Park," "SAP Center," "O.co Coliseum" and "Levi's Stadium." It's no surprise that today's news release acknowledges longtime Sonoma County residents who "fondly remember and feel a connection to the Center’s original name."
That's because the change from "Luther Burbank Center" to "Wells Fargo Center" was always especially painful.
1. Luther Burbank is a local celebrity and not a too-big-to-fail banking institution. I mean, sure, he developed plants. His is a niche celebrity if ever there was one. But when it comes to the name of a 35-year-old performing arts center that serves the community, I'll take a famed horticulturist who brought great minds to Santa Rosa and praised the region over a bank that was once actually sued by the United States for mortgage fraud any day.
2. Hardly anybody called it the Wells Fargo Center. Chalk it up to the good sense of the local public, because seriously, who called it the Wells Fargo Center this past decade? It was always "the LBC." Two separate people I know who worked at the LBC confirmed to me the rumor I'd heard, about the number-one Google search term that still led people to the venue's website. You guessed it: "Luther Burbank Center." What sense is a naming rights deal if the public rejects it for 10 whole years?
3. The poor people working at the Center had to enforce it. Shortly after the name change, I once wrote a small blurb about an upcoming concert, noting with a strikethrough that it was to take place at "the
Wells Fargo Center Luther Burbank Center." The next day, the Center's publicist emailed, explaining the naming rights deal, and asked if I could please change the blurb. Ask yourself: can you imagine being the person whose job it is to police people's mentions of a beloved cultural institution, and request that they call it a bank instead? I honestly felt bad for that person. (Did I feel bad enough to change it? No.)
4. Naming-rights deals can't possibly pay off. Was the naming deal even worth it? Not for the Center, mind you, but for Wells Fargo, who paid $3.75 million to the Center to change its name. How many attendees saw a great show there, thought "what a benevolent bank!" and woke up the next day and rushed out to open a Wells Fargo account? If anything, the reverse was true: people who were so insulted by the change that they vowed to avoid Wells Fargo whenever possible.
5. You just don't mess with special memories. To me and hundreds of other Santa Rosans, the LBC isn't just another venue. It's personal. My entire school career was bookended at the LBC -- my first day of kindergarten was there, and my senior prom was there. It's where I first kissed a girl on the playground. As I grew up, the countless concerts, symphonies, comedy shows and theater productions I saw there changed me for the better. It's where I met people like Tony Bennett and Elvis Costello just by hanging around the stage door. And the last time I saw my mom before she died was in the parking lot, saying goodbye after a show. The Luther Burbank Center is where all these things happened, and I'll be damned if I allow a bank to insert its name into my major life events just because it wants to.
So anyway, Santa Rosa, whew! That was a long 10 years, wasn't it?
(And just think: it could have been even worse.)