When Samarkand is brought up, most of us think: family, safety, great homes, close to San Roque, a hidden jewel, and of course, lawn bowling. What may not cross our minds is the neighborhood’s history: Persian hotel, sugar tycoon, and Santa Barbara’s first airfield.
Welcome to Samarkand: “The Land of the Heart’s Desire.”
The Samarkand neighborhood of Santa Barbara encompasses the stretch of homes between Las Positas, State Street, De La Vina, Oak Park, and the freeway. Most locals would agree that Samarkand is a special place that features pride of ownership homes that line the beautifully maintained streets, all while promoting a safe and tight- knit community of families. If you have ever driven through on the way to a friend’s house or used it as a shortcut to get from Las Positas to De La Vina, you immediately know how unique the area really is. However, this small and pleasant neighborhood has a rich history that most aren’t aware of. Samarkand is Persian for the “Land of the Heart’s Desire”; in that way the place hasn’t changed.
It all began in 1915 when Dr. Prynce Hopkins, who had been a headmaster at an all boys school in Mission Canyon, bought 32 + acres to build a second school. Built adjacent to Oak Park, the new school was bordered by what is now Las Positas, State Street and Tallant Road. It was designed to resemble the Persian opulence of the past. Ultimately, the school fell apart after Dr. Hopkins left Santa Barbara. His mother, Mary Hopkins had other visions for the Persian paradise; she remodeled and created The Samarkand Hotel to capitalize on west coast tourism. Although the hotel was beautiful and lavish, the opening of The Biltmore took much of their clientele and The Samarkand ultimately had to close its doors.
The property was then sold again, to a sugar tycoon’s widow who drilled for natural hot springs in what is now known as Oak Park. Following this venture, a developer saw a future for a family neighborhood and a housing tract was set in motion. The remaining property was ultimately sold and turned into what we now know as The Samarkand Retirement Community. Certain heirlooms, such as the blue pots from the hotel, are still there and grace the Retirement Center’s landscape.
The first official U.S. Postal Service airmail pilot, Earle Ovington, moved to Santa Barbara and his address was at 3030 Samarkand Drive. Ovington also built SB’s first airfield, which was located adjacent to his home and what is now some of Mackenzie Park. The landing strip occupied what is now part of McCaw Avenue and the Santa Barbara Municipal Golf Course, which provided safe landing for Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh among others.
With such a diverse and opulent history, Samarkand fits right into the Santa Barbara landscape. Today, Samarkand comprises about 184 acres, which includes the Samarkand Senior Retirement Facility, a portion of Oak Park, and the very well known MacKenzie Park Lawn Bowling facility. This neighborhood consists mainly of single family homes, well developed and maintained by their residents; it makes an ideal spot for families, especially those with young children due to safe streets that are ideal for walking, bike riding, and proximity to MacKenzie Park, Adams School, and San Roque, where there are plenty of shops, grocery stores, and restaurants. Most residents of Samarkand would surely say that living there is like living in the land of the heart’s desire; community, safety, tranquility, and the beauty of Santa Barbara right outside your door.