Santa Maria Valley’s Chamber of Commerce, once located in a small office at 125 W. Church St., began in 1906 as a protective organization to keep out competition. It later moved to an office in City Hall, and in 1972, a separate office was constructed at 614 South Broadway on property leased from the city where it remains today.
With its initial membership of 50 filled with city politicos, it wasn’t easy for a new business to open.
What a difference the past 112 years have made. In addition to the today's chamber working to not only maintain the economy, it also encourages business growth in Santa Maria.
According to Elwin Mussell, who once served as mayor of Santa Maria, was a longtime member of the chamber, “The chamber only came to life about 1928,” when Jesse Chambers came aboard. Up until that time he said that it was basically inactive.
When Chambers took over as the secretary/manager, he was so determined to get people involved that he offered to have his pay based on the money that he could collect on membership fees. His people skills resulted in almost immediate success and the chamber’s growth, for the times, was phenomenal.
When the country was hit with the Great Depression, the economy went sour. Still, the city wasn’t large enough that an active chamber was necessary. After the Depression and as the city began to grow, so did the chamber’s role.
Tourism, then and now, played an integral part of Santa Maria’s economy, and half the city’s income came from the freeway that ran right down Broadway.
Chambers was a “natural” in serving as a goodwill ambassador to the many movie stars and other celebrities who came through town and stayed at the Santa Maria Inn.
The 13 years that Chambers served (until 1941) culminated in the organization’s most active period up to that time.
After the start of World War II, the chamber’s activities weren’t looking good and it wasn’t until 1952, when Robert "Bob" Seavers arrived to take over the reins, that interest in the chamber began to take hold when it began to once more become involved in community affairs.
Seavers brought his family to Santa Maria in January of 1948 when he came to work as general manager for Pacific Coast Lumber. He later worked as traffic manager for George Smith Transportation.
The beginning of Seavers' long and illustrious career in Santa Maria began in 1952, when he accepted the position of secretary-manager of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Seavers was no stranger to involvement with Chamber of Commerce activities as he had served as secretary-manager of the Tulare Chamber of Commerce prior to enlisting in the U.S. Navy and becoming a member of the Office of Naval Intelligence during World War II. After receiving an honorable discharge from military service, he accepted a position as secretary-manager of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce.
Seavers' track record in the growth of membership in the Santa Maria chamber was well above average. He started his tenure in 1952 with only 100 members and by 1981 the membership had increased to 1,350.
In addition to his work with the chamber, he loved the theater and devoted much of his time and effort to the Santa Maria Civic Theatre. He joined the SMCT in 1966 and remained a working member for 18 years. Because of his position with the chamber, his help to the theater was invaluable as an adviser in all areas.
Seavers was not only a member of the SMCT, he served as treasurer, as well as box office and house manager, according to the theater's co-founder Meg Smith.
As the chamber’s secretary-manager, Seavers cleared the way for members to get the supplies needed to construct sets for their plays, and to borrow furniture and props from Harrell Fletcher’s stores. He also persuaded the superintendent of schools to allow performances to be held at the Alvin Avenue School.
As house manager, Seavers pored through newspapers and brochures for the best prices of supplies and didn’t hesitate to clip coupons to purchase other necessities. He made arrangements with B&B Phone Service to have its operators take reservations for all plays and supplied them with information about each play so that the operators could advise callers about whether the plays were suitable for families or restricted to adults.
When the Board of Supervisors refused to permit the group to perform in its new building, Seavers was there to coach the members on how to override the board's restrictions and present their case to the City Council.
In 2006, when Seavers received the Santa Maria Civic Theatre Lifetime Achievement Award, it was noted that the strength of the theater and its goals persisted because of his contributions as well as for his motivation of others to work together for the betterment of the organization.
One of his many achievements with the chamber, in concert with other officials, that Seavers found to be most satisfactory included working with the State Division of Highways to secure the funds for the reconstruction of Cuyama Road (Highway 166). Although it took eight years for the chamber’s highway committee to urge the California Highway Commission to finish Cuyama Road, in doing so, it opened the southern San Joaquin Valley to the south Central Coast.
Another achievement was securing the copyright for Santa Maria-style beef barbecue in March of 1978.
The Santa Maria-style barbecue was, and still is, a major tourist draw.
Thanks to Seavers' efforts, articles on the barbecue appeared in national magazines and in features sections of California newspapers.
Through Seavers, advertising and promotion of the city and what it had to offer were the major tools used to sell the Santa Maria way of life.
As a 50-year member of the Elks, Seavers was a big supporter of the Elks Rodeo Parade and had a direct hand with the appearances of many television and sports celebrities.
During his 35 years of chamber service, Seavers wore many hats. In addition to his activities with the Civic Theatre, some of his community activities included being a member of the advisory committee for PCPA, secretary-treasurer of the Kiwanis Club, a member of the board of directors of the Central Coast YMCA, the Salvation Army, American Red Cross, First Christian Church.
When he retired from the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1987 after 35 years of service, more than 600 people attended a party at the Elks Lodge.
In 2003, Seavers moved to Walnut Creek to be closer to his family. He died in March of 2014 and his ashes are buried next to those of his wife, Margaret, in the Dudley Hoffman Memorial Garden.