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Way Back When in Santa Barbara, Mesa Memories, & Silent Movies Made in Montecito


Sketch of a brig, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Mesa's Only Shipwreck - Part 1

Captain Joseph S. Garcia has the dubious distinction of being the captain of the "Pride of the Sea," the only ship to be wrecked while Julia Williams was tending Santa Barbara's Mesa lighthouse. (Julia was the Mesa lighthouse keeper from the 1860's to 1905.) It happened in the dark of night on January 12, 1864. There was only a thin sliver of moon. The brig was up the coast off More Mesa taking asphaltum (tar) on board to sell in San Francisco.


Garcia was an experienced ship captain, but something went terribly wrong and the vessel drifted ashore under the cliffs of the Mesa. Unfortunately, there were no newspapers published in Santa Barbara that year, so the only reports come from up north. The first notice appeared in the San Francisco newspaper, the "Daily Alta California," on January 15:



"Brig 'Pride of the Sea,' Captain Garcia, went onshore … on the 12th at 11 p.m. The vessel will be a total loss. Part of the freight will be saved, though in a damaged condition. No lives lost."


(More about the interesting career of Captain Garcia in next week's post.)

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Moving Picture World, December 4, 1920

Montecito, California subbed for numerous locations around the world in the dozens of silent movies that were filmed there. In the 1920 movie "Earthbound," this community represented a location not of this world. After World War I, there was an increased interest in spiritualism resulting from the millions of deaths caused by the war and the influenza pandemic.

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY - 100+ years ago this month

Women everywhere were eager to be involved. Here a group of women in Oregon register for jury duty. (Image: Wikimedia)

Women on the Grand Jury in Santa Barbara for the First Time

The world was changing, and Santa Barbara was changing too. The big headlines in the local paper in January 1919 read: "Women Drawn to Serve on Santa Barbara County Grand Jury First Time in History."


The article continued, "The new grand jury of Santa Barbara County for 1919 was chosen yesterday, and for the first time in history, there appear upon it the names of women."


But not everything had changed. The women were referred to as "the gentler sex" two times in the article.


The newspaper listed the names of a number of potential jurors. One of the women on the list was Pearl Chase.

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View of Castle Rock from West Beach.
Image courtesy of John Woodward

Castle Rock - Part 2


Although Castle Rock was a tourist attraction, some people considered it an obstacle. Carriages could only drive around the rock and go west along the beach during low tides. As early as 1872, one Santa Barbara newspaper wrote, "Blow It Up … by a little blasting … we could have a drive on the beach from the lighthouse to Carpinteria." (The lighthouse was located near today's La Mesa Park.)


In 1875, some citizens suggested "… opening a roadway through 'Castle Rock' above high-water mark so as to connect the beach above the rock and the beach in front of the city…"


In 1876, a road was cut between Castle Rock and the Mesa bluff. "There is now a beautiful drive up the beach for over six miles," enthused one newspaper. The next year (1877), the road was widened by blasting a passage wide enough for two carriages to ride side by side. But Mother Nature struck back. Later that year, a newspaper mourned, "The land is sliding and choking up the new road through Castle Point."


In the end, the rock was erased from our landscape. Around 1931, when the breakwater was being built, Castle Rock was finally dynamited into oblivion. An article on December 5, 1931 casually mentioned that the much-photographed landmark was now just landfill. "Crushed rock, secured from the remains of Castle Rock, was used as a base for a surface of oil and gravel." What an ignominious ending for Santa Barbara's castle on the sand!

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Image: Wikimedia

The 1917 movie The Bottle Imp was actually filmed in Montecito, California, although numerous publications stated otherwise, such as this one:


"Robert Louis Stevenson laid the scene of The Bottle Imp in Hawaii – so off to Hawaii sailed the Lasky-Paramount directors in search of the real thing in both settings and actors for their film adaptation." – New-York Tribune, March 11, 1917

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY - 100+ years ago this month

Image: courtesy of State Library of New South Wales

Dirty Dancing in January 1914

"No social season is complete without a fad, and this year the fad is the tango," gushed one society columnist in the Santa Barbara paper. The tango was clearly the hot dance way back when.


Not everyone was taking to the tango back in 1914. In Rome, the pope declared that the tango "outrages modesty," and added, "The people must be made to see the grave offense to God and the irreparable harm to society by participating in spectacles which incite looseness of morals."


If that weren't enough to make you sit out this fad, the "Journal of the American Medical Association" declared that "elderly [tango] dancers were in danger of putting too great a strain on a dilated heart or an arteriosclerotic artery."



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(Photo: View of Castle Rock from West Beach. Image courtesy of John Woodward)

Castle Rock - Part 1

It was called Castle Rock, and it was one of the most photographed landmarks of Santa Barbara in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It appeared on numerous postcards — in the foreground or in the background. "Castle Rock was a favorite subject for early Santa Barbara photographers, along with the Mission, the Arlington Hotel, the Big Grapevine in Montecito and the Hot Springs," according to John Woodward, Santa Barbara historian and vintage photo collector.


Castle Rock stood at the southeast edge of the Mesa, near the location of the two white pillars that now lead to the breakwater, according to historian Neal Graffy. In 1847, when some of the earliest American settlers arrived in Santa Barbara, Castle Rock was still connected to the Mesa bluff. By the time people started taking photos, it already stood apart — a sentinel marking the west end of the beach.


Its name "Castle Rock" was coined by the early Santa Barbara photographer, Edward J. Hayward. The earliest newspaper article I found that used the term "Castle Rock" was in 1875. The name commemorated the Spanish fort that some historians believe was located on the edge of the Mesa just above. (The fort was sometimes referred to on early maps as Punta del Castillo, or Castle Point.)


More about Castle Rock in the next MESA MEMORIES MONDAY post. 

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The 1913 silent film "In the Days of Trajan" is one of at least 60 silent movies made in Montecito, California. The film received favorable reviews in newspapers and magazines near and far.


"Vivid scenes of the dungeons and the arenas of Rome in the early Christian days." – "Bioscope" [London, England], November 13, 1913


(This film is one of many that I have discovered in my ongoing research for a book about silent movies made in Montecito.)


(Image: Motion Picture News, October 25, 1913)

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY - 100+ years ago this month

(Image: courtesy of Neal Graffy)

January 1914 ended with a torrent that people talked about for decades. Sunday afternoon and evening, January 25, the skies opened up and deluged our city with 9.41 inches of rain.

"Houses Carried Away; Bridges Torn Out; Boulevards Wrecked. … Three bridges along Mission Creek were carried out by the flood and two bridges on the east side were destroyed. A number of houses along the creek were also floated away."

Ocean waves swept over what is now Cabrillo Boulevard and carried away three sections of pavement 75 to 150 feet long. The beach was covered with sodden belongings, furniture, and even wagons that had been swept along by the wall of water that roared down Mission Creek. Witnesses said it sounded like a freight train.

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You don't know beans!


Did you know that lima beans have a Mesa history? Mesa farmer Jonathan Mayhew is said to have introduced lima beans to Santa Barbara in 1867. He had grown them in the Bay Area and brought some with him when he moved to the Mesa. He gave some to a Mesa neighbor to plant, but the neighbor liked them so much, he cooked them and ate them all.


Although pronounced LIME-uh beans today, the beans were named for LEEM-uh (Lima), Peru. Lima beans are native to Central America and northern South America.


(The above is an excerpt from MESApedia - The Early Years of Santa Barbara's Mesa.)

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