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Way Back When in Santa Barbara & Mesa Memories

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

A Close Shave in the Air in Santa Barbara

         This is not a description of a near-disaster, this really was a close shave. As more and more people took to the air in airplanes, they began trying to set records for the first time a certain activity took place aloft. This story involved a Santa Barbara barber and a brave victim in need of a shave back in September 1919.

         In addition to the pilot, the seaplane carried the barber, the man in need of a shave, his wife and some employees of the "Flying A" film studio, including a cameraman. As the Lockheed (Loughead) seaplane reached the 1,000-foot altitude, the man's face was lathered and shaved clean. (Imagine doing this in the air! Image: Library of Congress)

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Spanish Street Names - Part 1

Have you ever driven or walked around the Mesa and wondered what the Spanish street names mean in English? Sure, names like Mesa and Oceano are easy enough to figure out, but what about some of the others? What is, or who is, Alella or El Faro? In some cases, the names are easy to figure out — like Del Mar Avenue; in other cases, the names might have been chosen simply because they would look good in a real estate brochure. Do you know what your street name means in English? You might be surprised. Read on…

Aurora Avenue — (ow-ROE-rah) Is it Spanish or is it English? This one swings both ways. Both come from Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn. Aurora is also a woman's name.

Barranca Avenue and Lane — (bah-RAHN-kah) A barranca is a hill, slope, ravine, or gully. There were numerous ravines in the Mesa years ago that have since been filled in, so this is a name that makes sense.

Calle Alella — For starters, calle means street. The correct pronunciation is KAI-yay, (rhymes with SKY-hay). Most Santa Barbarans pronounce this correctly, although I have heard some people say KAH-lee. Alella (ah-LAY-yah) is a village on the Mediterranean near Barcelona, Spain known for its wines.

Calle Almonte — (al-MON-tay). Almonte means "to the mountain." It's the name of a town and a river in Spain, as well.

Calle Brevo —Brevo (BRAY-voh) is not a word that occurs in any source that I consulted. Perhaps it was meant to be bravo (fierce) or breve (short)?

Calle Canon — Cañón (cahn-YUN) can mean a cannon, the barrel of a pistol, or a canyon.

Calle Cortita — Cortita (core-TEE-tah) is the diminutive of corte (short), but it's actually a medium-sized street.

Calle del Oro — (ORE-oh) This name means "golden street" or the proverbial "street paved with gold". Unfortunately, for the residents of this street, it is not actually paved with gold.

Calle Galicia — (gah-LEE-cee-uh) Galicia is an autonomous region in northwest Spain. People from this predominantly rural location are often the subjects of "country-bumpkin" jokes in Latin America.

Calle Linares – (lee-NAR-ess) This means the street of flax, and is also the name of a city in north Mexico. It's related to the English word "linen."

Is your brain full yet? Part 2 will be posted next week.

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY - 100 years ago this week

The Barber, Um, the Dentist is Ready for You

When people speak about the past with nostalgia, chances are, they are not talking about going to the dentist. One of the barbers in Santa Barbara back in 1919 had a collection of antique dental tools on his wall in memory of the past when the town's barber doubled as the dentist.


The paper noted, "The early dentist could best remedy tooth troubles by extracting them." The tooth extractor hanging on the wall had an ivory handle and pliers made of steel. Ouch! (Image: A Manual on Extracting Teeth, 1868)

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY - Remembering the Mesa Schoolhouse

Another school year has begun and hundreds of young Mesa kids have gone back to McKinley, Washington, or Monroe schools. But there used to be another school on the Mesa – a one-room schoolhouse located near the corner of Mesa Lane and Mesa School Lane.


The teacher for many years was Miss Carrie E. Brant. Brant's career was typical of many school teachers — she never married, but probably taught hundreds of students that she considered "her children." She was the daughter of a judge in the Santa Ynez area. She had been born in 1876 in a small town in Illinois, and at age 10, moved with her family to Santa Barbara County. Brant began teaching when she was just 18, and later obtained a teaching degree from the Santa Barbara Normal School, located where the Riviera Theater is today. (The SB Normal School later became UCSB.)


Brant bought a home on Mesa School Lane in 1908, and it may have been that year that the one-room La Mesa schoolhouse opened its doors for the first time. When the new McKinley School opened on Loma Alta Drive in 1932, the La Mesa School was closed forever.


But the story doesn't end there. In January 1932, the Board of Education sold the one-room schoolhouse to William F. Hazard for $101. Hazard, a contractor, moved the schoolhouse to 349 Mohawk Road and converted it into his home. (Please do not disturb the home's current residents.)


Shown is a photo of the Mesa's schoolhouse in 1919. Image: courtesy of Gerry Turner

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY - 100 years ago this week

Gasp! Women Bare Their Ankles!

Several years ago, women began wearing shorter skirts that revealed their ankles. Now in September 1919, some women started going out in public without stockings. According to the Santa Barbara paper, "In the northern cities, young women with petite ankles are thrilling the crowds and, at the same time, stopping traffic. This is a bold age and the blasé have ceased to follow exemplars of the stockingless fashion as they wend their ways through the crowds.


"Some of the males have become so callow, they only turn their heads to gaze after the shimmering white calves of the maidens for three or four blocks until … the young men run into a lamp post or something.


"When girls minus stockings first appeared in San Francisco, streetcars were temporarily stalled, reports say. Many masculine necks performed contortions and the next day gave their owners twinges. Santa Barbara is yet to be initiated."


Tsk! Tsk! What WILL they think of next, you ask!


(Image: San Pedro Daily News, February 11, 1920)

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY - The Blowout on the Mesa - part 2


(This is the second part of a story about an oil well gusher in 1934 that I posted about last Monday. If you missed it, you can find it further down on this page.)


The oil crews struggled in the windy autumn night to bring the raging well under control. More than 100 additional men shoveled frantically throughout the long night to construct earthen dams downhill from the well. No one wanted the growing lake of oil to pour over the cliff and into the Pacific. The "Los Angeles Times" wrote, "Three great pools of oil formed during the flow at the lower end of the S.A. Perkins Ranch." (This is now the west end of Shoreline Park.)


While the oil flowed in an easterly direction, the prevailing wind from the east carried the spray of oil westerly for nearly a mile, "saturating acres of garden green peas … while a stucco residence was completely blackened by the oil rain," noted the paper, adding, "damage has been heavy, but no estimate has yet been made."


Once the oil was contained by the shovel crews' dams, the well's owner, the Rio Grande Company, brought in a 500-gallon pump to begin the process of transferring the oil into tanks. But it hardly made a difference in what was now a vast viscous lake of 10,000 to 12,000 barrels of crude oil. (There are 42 gallons to a barrel, which means there were 420,000 to 504,000 gallons of oil puddled on the ground.)


Finally, about 10 o'clock on Saturday morning, more than 12 hours after it had started, the flow of oil slowed enough so that the exhausted oil-covered men could finally cap the well. The workers who had toiled all night took a well-earned break, and the pump started to siphon the oil into tank trucks.


While dismayed Mesa residents looked at a hellish oil-blackened landscape that Saturday, petroleum companies eyed the Mesa oil field with renewed interest. "The performance of the well, which in quantity of production, exceeds the Ellwood wells at their peak, has electrified the oil industry locally and brought many prominent operators here to study the Mesa area in general," noted the "Times." (The great Mesa gusher of 1934 probably looked like this one. Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY - 100 years ago this week

Back in 1919, Life magazine had plenty of jokes, and many of them are still funny today. I include a century-old cartoon in each chapter of my Way Back When books. Here's the cartoon for August 1919.

The caption reads: How it seemed to Little Willie the first time he went to the beach. (Image: Life, August 7, 1919)

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The Blowout on the Mesa - part 1
     No one seems to have recorded whether it started with a sudden "boom," or whether it began with a hissing sound. Maybe because it started at 8:30 at night, there weren't many oil workers around. But one thing's for sure, it caught everyone's attention — here on the Mesa, and in downtown Santa Barbara. "It" was a "gusher" 150 feet high! The oil derrick above the well stood 122 feet tall, and the "black gold" and sand solution shot up at least 25 feet over that. The date was November 2, 1934.
     The oil well was new and had only recently been drilled. The workers had just put steel piping into the well. But the oil and sand shot out of the well with such pressure that the bottom of the piping was worn away. Several groups of oil crews charged to the well to try to tame the geyser of dark fluid rocketing up from 2,000 feet below the surface. The well was named Fair Acres Oil Company #1. (Fair Acres is the subdivision surrounding Santa Cruz Boulevard.)
     Would the jet of oil turn into an inferno? It would only take a spark or a cigarette to do it. Every oil worker knew that — and feared that. The Los Angeles Times reported, "police and firemen were called to the scene as a precautionary measure against fire and injury." (Image of a similar blowout: Wikimedia)
(This story continues in the next "Mesa Memories Monday" posting.)

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY - 100 years ago this week

     Boy, did this Santa Barbara fisherman have something to brag about in August 1919! Imagine landing a 1,500-pound fish! The man "harpooned a fish as big as the side of an automobile in the waters of the Channel near Hope Ranch." He must have been looking for big fish because he had a harpoon with him, and used it to spear the fish. "An exciting ride of some distance, with the maddened sunfish acting as the motive power, followed … the big fellow [the fish, that is] was on exhibition at the wharf … he [the fish, again] is valueless for human consumption." 

     I talked to Dr. Milton Love, Research Biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, author of Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast to get his take on this gigantic fish tale. He speculated that it was a Mola mola. "They can get very, very large," he told me. This was similar to the rare Mola tecta that washed up on the beach near Coal Oil Point in February, 2019. (Image: A Guide to the Study of Fishes, by David Starr Jordan, 1905)

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Cliff Drive's Other Names – Ever wonder why "Cliff Drive" has that name even though it is nowhere near the cliffs? The name originated on the section of the road that runs west of Arroyo Burro Beach (Hendry's Beach, Henry's Beach) where it does run along the cliff. The portion of Cliff Drive on the Mesa was originally called "The Mesa Road" and began on the west side of Santa Barbara and ended about where Monroe Elementary School is located today.
     The Pacific Improvement Company, the owner of what is now called Hope Ranch, wanted an easier way for prospective property buyers to reach their property. The only way of reaching the property was the long route along State Street - quite a lengthy trip before the highway was built. The Mesa Road was pretty primitive, however. Here's a description of the road in 1902 – "There is not room for two vehicles to pass without getting into great ditches washed by the winter rain, or in deep chuch holes [potholes] which are left to be worn deeper and larger as the seasons come and go. That portion of the road is a disgrace to the city."
     The road through the Mesa was finally upgraded in 1903, and there were a number of names proposed for the new and improved route, but in the end, the powers-that-be stated that they "could not find a better name than Cliff Drive." (Image: Wikimedia)

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