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

"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: Pacific Rural Press, October 4, 1874

The Mesa's First Family - Part 1

 

He was a Santa Barbara cowboy, a soldier, and a family man. He had light skin, gray eyes, and black hair. He was six feet tall – pretty tall considering that he lived in the mid-1800s. He probably walked with a limp since one of his legs had been broken and had not been properly set. Most likely, he was injured when he was thrown from a horse. But he spent most of his day on a horse, so it probably didn't matter much. He is the first person to be documented living here on the Mesa.

 

His name was Luis Gilber. He was born in Santa Barbara and baptized at the Mission. His father was born in Spain, and his mother was born in California. Luis spoke Spanish, and would have called himself a vaquero, which means cowboy in Spanish. Because his name was Spanish, it was misspelled a half a dozen ways in the records here: Louis, Gilbar, Hilbar, Gilver, Jilver, Gilbert, etc.

 

In 1856, Charles E. Huse, one of the leading lawyers in Santa Barbara, visited the Mesa to scope out a location for the lighthouse. Huse kept a journal in which he mentioned visiting Luis in his home on the Mesa near the area where the lighthouse would be sited. This is the earliest written record of anyone living on the Mesa. So, Luis and his wife Maria del Refugio Olivas de Gilber and their children had a front row seat as the lighthouse was being built during the summer of 1856. (The lighthouse is believed to have been located about where La Mesa Park is today.) More about Louis Gilber, the soldier, next week. 

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Modern audiences might be surprised at the amount of nudity in some silent films. This 1916 one had plenty of it. "In this production, Miss Munson [the star] appears frequently in the nude, illustrating a number of works by famous artists and sculptors for which she posed." – Motography  [Chicago, Illinois], June 10, 1916

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: Library of Congress

Blaming the Flu Source

 

Although recent historians think that the 1918 flu pandemic started in the United States, back in 1918 it was blamed on the Europeans – Spain in particular, and also Germany.

 

In September 1918, the Santa Barbara newspaper wrote, "The bringing of the mysterious malady to our shore is blamed on the Germans. It is remembered that it appeared in Spain after the visit of a U-boat to one of the Spanish ports, and now it is seriously suggested that the germs of the disease were released on our Atlantic coast by Germans, who were put ashore for that purpose."

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image of Summerland's oil wells by G.H. Eldridge

The "Oil Boom" of 1899 - Part 1

 

Although it's well known that the Mesa was despoiled by ugly oil derricks in the 1920s, that was not the first time oil companies took an interest in our area. In 1899, the local papers were filled with articles about drilling for oil on the Mesa's beaches!

 

It began when one man who the local paper called, "an enterprising resident of Santa Barbara . . . located a claim on the beach at the north end of the city, just beyond Castle Rock." [Castle Rock was located about where the harbor breakwater is today.] Other oil prospectors also jumped into the act and filed more claims.

 

An impassioned letter to the editor pointed a finger at Summerland whose shoreline was then punctuated with unsightly oil derricks (see photo). "The mayor should call a mass meeting of citizens at once backed by the Chamber of Commerce to pass resolutions . . . warning all men that no oil wells will be allowed on the beach within a radius of a certain number of miles from the city limits."

 

How did the standoff end? Next week's Mesa Memories Monday will reveal what happened. 

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Movie audiences all over the world were able to enjoy films made here as shown by a Japanese poster advertising The Diamond From the Sky. This 1915 movie was one of the serials filmed in Montecito.

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image of diatoms: F. L. Washburn, 1896

Rock Soap - Part 2

 

On May 23, 1878, the Los Angeles Herald reported, "Rock Soap – Some of the Rock Soap from the vein located by Mr. Frank Walker, on the Santa Barbara beach [on the Mesa], a few months since, was sent to San Francisco for trial, and the report comes back that it is far superior to the Ventura article . . . In a short time, a number of tons of the crude material will be sent to the city for manufacture into marketable shape, and no doubt, Santa Barbara Rock Soap will, ere long, be a staple article of commerce."

 

Only five weeks later, on June 29, 1878, Santa Barbara's Weekly Press reported that Frank Walker and his business associates sold the rights to their Rock Soap mine on the Mesa to the Pacific Soap Company. The paper did not call him "Fast Frank," but that could well have been his nickname in Santa Barbara.

 

There is no record of Rock Soap being mined on the Mesa cliffs, or anywhere else in Santa Barbara. In the 1800s, Rock Soap was principally used for polishing jewelry and silverware. 

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Image: Exhibitors Herald, April 1, 1921

Two movies directed by Lois Weber were filmed in Montecito.

The movie Too Wise Wives, was made at one of the estates here in 1921. Weber preferred filming on real locations, when possible.

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: National Archives

"Spanish Flu" Advice

 

(I had no idea when I was writing about the Spanish Flu epidemic in Santa Barbara for my 1918 and 1919 "Way Back When" books that another flu would be in the news in 2020, but I thought folks would like to read about how we coped with the flu a century ago.)

 

Back in August 1918, there were no cases of the Spanish Flu in Santa Barbara yet, but articles in the local paper recommended that people start wearing masks if they became sick.

 

A local doctor gave a talk at the Rotary Club meeting this month. "Every one of you . . . should wear a mask until your cold is over," the doctor warned. "There is no other way, and unless it is started soon, the disease, grippe, will seize you in its clutches."

 

There was no talk of handwashing. One hundred years ago, viruses and their transmission were not as well understood as they are today. I'll have more items about the Spanish Flu in Santa Barbara in future posts.

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image of diatoms: F. L. Washburn, 1896

Rock Soap - Part 1

 

They didn't have TV pitchmen in the 1870s selling chia pets, thigh minimizers, or copper bracelets guaranteed to cure arthritis, but they did have the infamous Rock Soap fad (or scam).

 

It began in Ventura County in 1875. The white chalky stone was discovered by a miner looking for coal. He claimed that during his digging, some of this rock fell into the water and dissolved into a soapy film. Rock Soap was heavily promoted in newspapers around the U.S., and was even exhibited at the World's Fair in Philadelphia in 1876.

 

Rock Soap, we now know, is composed of the skeletons of microscopic sea creatures called diatoms. Today it is known as diatomaceous earth, and Lompoc has mountains of it, and there was some on the Mesa. More about this in next week's Mesa Memories Monday post. 

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: Camera Yearbook, 1919

Mollie of the Follies

 

This was one of two movies released by Santa Barbara's "Flying A" movie studio in February 1919. Mollie Malone is a dancer at a Coney Island carnival. She's in love with a guy and he loves her. But due to a case of mutual misunderstandings (where would movies be without misunderstandings?), they have a falling out and she leaves the carnival to marry another guy who she just met.

 

A series of mishaps happen (where would movies be without mishaps?), and they don't really get married, which is a good thing – his name is Chauncey. Really! Chauncey? In fact, Mollie ends up marrying the first guy, they open a delicatessen, and live happily ever after. Hold the mayo.

 

The Baltimore Sun described Mollie of the Follies as "a play of ginger and pep replete with novel thrills." 

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