Santa Barbara History

Santa Barbara History

Santa Barbara Mission

The history of the city begins at least 13,000 years ago with the ancestors of the present-day Chumash. Evidence for a Paleoindian presence includes a fluted Clovis-like point found in the 1980s along the western Santa Barbara County coast, as well as the remains of Arlington Springs Man, found on Santa Rosa Island in the 1960s. Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 Chumash lived on the south coast of Santa Barbara County when Portuguese explorer João Cabrilho sailed through the Santa Barbara Channel in 1542, anchoring briefly in the area. In 1602Sebastian Vizcaino gave the name “Santa Barbara” to the region, in gratitude for having survived a violent storm in the Channel on December 3, the eve of the feast day of that saint.

Mission Santa Barbara, known as “the Queen of the Missions,” was founded in 1786.

A land expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá and accompanied by missionary Padre Junipero Serra visited in 1769, but did not stay. The first permanent European residents were Spanish missionaries and soldiers under Felipe de Neve and again accompanied by Serra, who came in 1782 to build the Presidio and Mission. They were sent both to fortify the region against expansion by other powers such as England and Russia, and to convert the natives to Christianity. Many of the Spaniards brought their families with them, and those formed the nucleus of the small town – at first just a cluster of adobes – that surrounded the Presidio. Mission Santa Barbara was dedicated December 4, 1786, the feast day ofSaint Barbara. The Mission fathers began the slow work of converting the native Chumash to Christianity, building a village for them on the Mission grounds. Many of the natives died in the following decades of diseases such as smallpox to which they had no natural immunity.

The most dramatic event of the Spanish period was the powerful 1812 earthquake, and tsunami, with an estimated magnitude of 7.1, which destroyed the Mission as well as the rest of the town; water reached as high as present-day Anapamu street, and carried a ship half a mile up Refugio Canyon. Following the earthquake, the Mission fathers chose to rebuild in a grander manner, and it is this construction that survives to the present day, the best-preserved of the California Missions.

The Spanish period ended in 1822 with the end of the Mexican War of Independence, which terminated three hundred years of colonial rule. The flag of Mexico went up the flagpole at the Presidio, but only for 24 years.

Santa Barbara

Mexican and Rancho period

After the forced secularization of the Missions in 1833, the large land tracts formerly held by the Franciscan Order were distributed by the Mexican governor of California, Pio Pico, to various families in order to reward service or build alliances. These land grants to local notable families mark the beginning of the “Rancho Period” in California and Santa Barbara history. The population remained sparse, with enormous cattle operations run by wealthy families. It was during this period that Richard Henry Dana, Jr. first visited Santa Barbara and wrote about the culture and people of Santa Barbara in his book Two Years Before the Mast.

Santa Barbara fell bloodlessly to a battalion of American soldiers under John C. Frémont on December 27, 1846, during the Mexican-American War, and after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo it became part of the expanding United States.

 

Old Santa Barbara

Middle and late 19th century

State Street in the 1880s looking north from Canon Perdido Street.

Change came quickly after Santa Barbara’s acquisition by the United States. The population doubled between 1850 and 1860. In 1851, land surveyor Salisbury Haley designed the street grid, famously botching the block measurements, misaligning the streets; wood construction replaced adobe, as American settlers moved in; and during the Gold Rush years and following, the town became a haven for bandits and gamblers, and a dangerous and lawless place. Charismatic gambler and highwayman Jack Powers had virtual control of the town in the early 1850s, until driven out by a posse organized in San Luis Obispo. English gradually supplanted Spanish as the language of daily life, becoming the language of official record in 1870.The first newspaper, the Santa Barbara Gazette, was founded in 1855.

While the Civil War had little effect on Santa Barbara, the disastrous drought of 1863 ended the Rancho Period, as most of the cattle died and ranchos were broken up and sold. The building of Stearns Wharf in 1872 enhanced Santa Barbara’s commercial and tourist accessibility; previously goods and visitors had to transfer from steamboats to smaller craft to row ashore. During the 1870s, writer Charles Nordhoff promoted the town as a health resort and destination for well-to-do travelers from other parts of the U.S.; many of them came, and many stayed. The luxurious Arlington Hotel dated from this period. In 1887 the railroad finally went through to Los Angeles, and in 1901 to San Francisco: Santa Barbara was now easily accessible by land and by sea, and development was brisk

Peter J. Barber, an architect, designed many Late Victorian style residences, and served twice as mayor, in 1880 and again in 1890.

Early 20th century to World War II

Just before the turn of the century, oil was discovered at the Summerland Oil Field, and the region along the beach east of Santa Barbara sprouted numerous oil derricks and piers fordrilling offshore. This was the first offshore oil development in the world; oil drilling offshore would become a contentious practice in the Santa Barbara area to the present day.

Santa Barbara housed the world’s largest movie studio during the era of silent film. Flying A Studios, a division of the American Film Manufacturing Company, operated on two city blocks centered at State and Mission between 1910 and 1922, with the industry shutting down locally and moving to Hollywood once it outgrew the area, needing the resources of a larger city. Flying A and the other smaller local studios produced approximately 1,200 films during their tenure in Santa Barbara, of which approximately 100 survive.

During this period, the Loughead Aircraft Company was established on lower State Street, and regularly tested seaplanes off of East Beach. This was the genesis of what would later become Lockheed.

 

Santa Barbara Courthouse

The new Santa Barbara County Courthouse was dedicated on August 14, 1929.

The earthquake of June 29, 1925, the first destructive earthquake in California since the 1906 San Francisco quake, destroyed much of Santa Barbara and killed 13 or 14 people. The low death toll is attributed to the early hour (6:23 a.m., before most people were out on the streets, vulnerable to falling masonry). While this quake, like the one in 1812, was centered in the Santa Barbara Channel, it caused no tsunami, and most of the damage was caused by two onshore aftershocks. It came at an opportune time for rebuilding, since a movement for architectural reform and unification around a Spanish Colonial style was already underway. Under the leadership of Pearl Chase, many of the city’s famous buildings rose as part of the rebuilding process, including the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, sometimes praised as the “most beautiful public building in the United States.”

During World War II Santa Barbara was home to Marine Corps Air Station Santa BarbaraNaval Reserve Center Santa Barbara at the harbor; was near to the Army’s Camp Cook, present-day Vandenberg Air Force Base; and contained a hospital for treating servicemen wounded in the Pacific Theatre. On February 23, 1942, not long after the outbreak of war in the Pacific, the Japanese submarine I-17 surfaced offshore and lobbed 16 shells at the Ellwood Oil Field, about 10 miles (16 km) west of Santa Barbara, in the first wartime attack by an enemy power on the U.S. mainland since the War of 1812. Although the shelling was inaccurate and only caused about $500 damage to a catwalk, panic was immediate. Many Santa Barbara residents fled, and land values plummeted to historic lows.

After World War II

After the war many of the servicemen who had seen Santa Barbara returned to stay. The population surged by 10,000 people between the end of the war and 1950. This burst of growth had dramatic consequences for the local economy and infrastructure. Highway 101 was built through town during this period, and newly built Lake Cachuma began supplying water via a tunnel dug through the mountains between 1950 and 1956.

Local relations with the oil industry gradually soured through the period. Production at Summerland had ended, Elwood was winding down, and to find new fields oil companies carried out seismic exploration of the Channel using explosives, a controversial practice that local fishermen claimed harmed their catch. The culminating disaster, and one of the formative events in the modern environmental movement, was the blowout at Union Oil’s Platform A on the Dos Cuadras Field, about eight miles (13 km) southeast of Santa Barbara in the Santa Barbara Channel, on January 28, 1969. Approximately 100,000 barrels (16,000 m3) of oil surged out of a huge undersea break, fouling hundreds of square miles of ocean and all the coastline from Ventura to Goleta, as well north facing beaches on the Channel Islands. Two legislative consequences of the spill in the next year were the passages of the California Envirnomental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); locally, outraged citizens formed GOO (Get Oil Out). Santa Barbara’s business community strove to attract development until the surge in the anti-growth movement in the 1970s. Many “clean” industries, especially aerospace firms such as Raytheon and Delco Electronics, moved to town in the 1950s and 1960s, bringing employees from other parts of the U.S. UCSB itself became a major employer. In 1975, the city passed an ordinance restricting growth to a maximum of 85,000 residents, through zoning. Growth in the adjacent Goleta Valley could be shut down by denying water meters to developers seeking permits. As a result of these changes, growth slowed down, but prices rose sharply.

When voters approved connection to State water supplies in 1991, parts of the city, especially outlying areas, resumed growth, but more slowly than during the boom period of the 1950s and 1960s. While the slower growth preserved the quality of life for most residents and prevented the urban sprawl notorious in the Los Angeles basin, housing in the Santa Barbara area was in short supply, and prices soared: in 2006, only six percent of residents could afford a median-value house. As a result, many people who work in Santa Barbara commute from adjacent, more affordable areas, such as Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Ventura. The resultant traffic on incoming arteries, in particular the stretch of Highway 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara, is another problem being addressed by long-range planners.