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Way Back When in Santa Barbara & Mesa Memories

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

A Stormy Date for Santa Barbara

Guess what! We had the same stormy weather here a century ago today. December 4, 1919 was a day that made a lot of sailors unhappy in the Santa Barbara Channel. "The ocean was running rough yesterday morning, and during the afternoon the wind was from the southeast which may indicate a storm that will endanger the safety of the small fishing boats that are in the harbor."

 

Coincidentally, it had also been stormy on December 4, 1602 when Sebastian Vizcaino sailed past our area. His ship weathered the storm safely, and he decided that Saint Barbara, whose name was on the Christian calendar for that date, had saved his ship so he gave her name to our area. (Image: Wikimedia)

 

This story and more than 200 others from 1919 are yours to keep and enjoy in my newly published Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1919 - The Best Stories of the Year - available in Santa Barbara bookstores and gift stores (and at Amazon.com if you live outside the area).

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Weldon of Weldon Road (part 1)

Did you know that Weldon Road is named for a Mesa astronomer?

The Reverend Salmon Riego Weldon was a minister who moved to Santa Barbara from the Midwest in 1872. Within two years, he had built a home near today's Weldon Road, installed his telescope in a special room, and was hosting star-gazing parties for the local intelligentsia.

The Santa Barbara Weekly Press noted, "The entertainments given at this suburban "salon" are becoming deservedly popular. Last evening was an especial occasion of interest on the Mesa, and the attendance at Mr. Weldon's observation parlor was unusually large … Judges and lawyers, and editors and ladies were represented among the eager gazers … Santa Barbara is beginning to appreciate the value of having the best telescope in Southern California, so conveniently accessible on the brow of the beautiful Mesa."

Who was Weldon and why did he come here? Watch for part 2 of this post next week.

(Image: courtesy of NASA)

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

Remember Gasoline Alley?

You don't have to be very old to know about this comic strip – it's still published in a number of newspapers around the United States. The comic strip began in 1918 in the Chicago Tribune because the paper's owner wanted a car-related comic strip. The strip made its debut here in Santa Barbara on November 25, 1919. It was one of the earliest car-themed comic strips.

"Gasoline Alley Makes First Bow in Press Today … Gasoline Alley has already become extremely popular in the East, and it is bound to be just as popular in the West. You are going to watch for the adventures of Walt, Avery and the remainder of their gang every day." (Image: Santa Barbara Morning Press, November 30, 1919)

(My "WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY posts are excerpts from my recently released book Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1919 - available at Amazon.com and in Santa Barbara bookstores.)

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Just Add Water – To the Mesa (part 2)

When the Gibraltar Dam was completed in 1920, the city of Santa Barbara had a huge surplus of water at its disposal. How to use this extra water was a heated topic in the City Council meetings.

 

Mayor Harvey T. Nielson wanted to sell the water to Montecito and Mission Canyon to raise revenue for the city. But City Council members favored expanding the city's limits to include the Mesa and two other areas. The annexation would increase the size of the city from 5,000 acres to 8,500. Mesa residents wanted to be part of the city because they would have access to city water. More water meant their land would be worth more — for farming and residential development.

 

And just when it seemed like the dust was settling on the annexation controversy, Mayor Nielson dropped a bombshell – he resigned! According to the Morning Press, the mayor had wanted to sell the surplus water and was against annexing the Mesa and other areas which the paper called "practically uninhabited and unimproved land." No doubt, many Mesa residents were glad to see him go.

 

The promise of water caused a flood of new homes to appear on the Mesa. In 1921, there had only been 26 Mesa households listed in the city directory; by 1924, there were already 86. So, in three years, the number of houses on the Mesa more than tripled, thanks to the addition of city water.

 

A photo of workers (above) at the Gibraltar Dam appeared in Popular Science Monthly, in March 1920.

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

John Philip Sousa in Santa Barbara

Celebrities have always been drawn to our city on the Channel, and world-famous bandleader Sousa was here in November 1919 with his band for a concert at the Potter Hotel (also known as the Belvedere Hotel.)

Sousa had led a marine band during World War I, and had been honorably discharged. No doubt, Sousa regaled his audience here with rousing renditions of his songs such as The Stars and Stripes Forever and the Marines' theme song. (Image: Library of Congress)

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL - If you like these "WAY BACK WHEN WEDNESDAY" posts, you are invited to come to my mini "Magical History Tour of Santa Barbara in 1919" at Chaucer's Bookstore in Santa Barbara on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. (My "Way Back When" posts are excerpts from my new book, Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1919 - The Best Stories of the Year.)

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Just Add Water – To the Mesa (part 1)

 

People have stood on the Mesa and looked at the ocean for thousands of years. The Chumash, and later the Spanish, used the Mesa as a vantage point, and older maps of the Mesa show the name La Vigía — the lookout — on the Mesa hills. But although the Mesa has plenty of water views, it has no source of year-round fresh water on the surface.

 

When the Williams family moved into the Mesa lighthouse in 1856, the mother of the family had to "saddle the old horse, take the baby in her arms and followed by the two little girls, go a mile to a spring, and bring home cans of water slung to the saddle," according to her son. The spring was probably near Veronica Springs Road.

 

In later decades, Mesa farmers and ranchers dug wells, but this was difficult and expensive. In 1875, for example, the well for the Dibblee mansion (where Santa Barbara City College is today) went down 930 feet before it hit fresh water. And in the decades before electricity, you needed a windmill to pump up the water. Lack of water was probably one of the main reasons why the Mesa remained a sparsely populated area. That changed in May of 1921 — a watershed year, if you'll pardon the pun. (This post will be continued next Monday.)

 

The photo above is an ad from the 1888 Santa Barbara business directory.

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

A Long Tail? Or a Tall Tale?

It was in the Santa Barbara newspaper in November 1919, so it must be true, right? Here goes: "A local dog fancier claims to have the longest dachshund in the United States. You can step on his tail in Santa Barbara and he will bite you in Montecito." (Image: More Animals, Oliver Herford, 1901)

 

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL - If you like these "WAY BACK WHEN WEDNESDAY" posts, you are invited to come to my mini "Magical History Tour of Santa Barbara in 1919" at Chaucer's Bookstore in Santa Barbara on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. (The "Way Back When" posts are excerpts from my new book, Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1919 - The Best Stories of the Year.)

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Utopia on the Mesa - part 2

(This is the second part of a post that began last week.)

According to the 1920 census, Littlefield and his wife Mary were living in Santa Barbara. He called himself a lecturer in New Thought; she was an editor. That year, the "Santa Barbara Morning Press" noted that Littlefield had bought property on the Mesa, and that he and others were working on the plans for their commune. A magazine called NOW wrote that the Mesa colony "is co-operative, with common gardens and orchards in which all are to share."

 

The 1922 city directory shows the Littlefields living on Cliff Drive. They and other early members of the group may have lived in the two-story farmhouse that was later Ye Fellowship Inn. This house still exists and is located on the lower part of Fellowship Road between Cliff Drive and Red Rose Way. Soon after, some commune members built homes on Red Rose Way. (Some of these adobe homes are still here - see photo.)

 

But in 1924, oil was discovered on nearby Flora Vista Drive, and practically overnight, the face of the Mesa changed — and so did the attitudes of the commune members. That same year, the California Superior Court formally dissolved the Santa Barbara Fellowship Colony at their request.

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

Embarrassing Incident on the Links

Here's one story that you won't hear a golfer bragging about back in the clubhouse. According to a story in a Santa Barbara newspaper in November 1919, "An unusual occurrence has been reported from the La Cumbre Country Club golf links. A beginner in the sport mistook a mushroom for his ball, and did not discover his mistake until five strokes afterward."

(Image: The La Cumbre Country Club, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Public Library's Edson Smith collection)

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL - If you like these "WAY BACK WEDNESDAY" posts, you are invited to come to my mini "Magical History Tour of Santa Barbara in 1919" at Chaucer's Bookstore in Santa Barbara on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. (The "Way Back When" posts are excerpts from my new book, "Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1919.")

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Utopia on the Mesa - part 1
The Mesa has always been some people's ideal place in the sun — from the 19th-century mansions of the Dibblee and Low families (now Marine Terrace and Shoreline Park), to the estate of Count Medzikhovsky (now the Douglas Family Preserve), to the Beach Boys' former enclave at the end of Mesa Lane. So, it's not surprising that George Elmer Littlefield, a man known as a "mystical Utopian," came here in 1919 to form the Santa Barbara Fellowship Colony. (Littlefield was the author of Illumination and Love.)


He was 58 years old — formerly a publisher and Unitarian minister from Westwood, Massachusetts. He didn't have a stellar track record. He had already started at least six other farming communes on the East Coast and in California. All had failed.


Littlefield's philosophy was short and simple:


Get an acre and live on it.
Get a spade and dig.
Get off the backs of the workers.
Get the shirkers off your back.
Get honest. Get busy.


(More about this Utopian colony on the Mesa in next Monday's post.)

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