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

"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: courtesy of NASA

Meteor Falls in Mission Canyon


You may or may not have spotted the distant comet that cruised by recently, but plenty of folks saw something a lot closer to home in 1914.


"Entire Northern Sky Illuminated for Several Seconds," wrote the Santa Barbara newspaper. The meteor described as "a ball of fire that was bright even in the moonlight, is believed to have fallen in upper Mission Canyon. The aerial visitor made its appearance about 7:00 last evening and was seen and heard by several persons in the vicinity of the Old Mission … The meteor first made its appearance above Cold Springs … The meteor was in plain sight about four seconds and as it fell, there was a swishing sound … The ball of fire was about a quarter the size of the full moon, and as it disappeared, its entire course was a trail of sparks."

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: from the Edson Smith collection, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Public Library

It's Show Time!

 

Back in July 1914, the newly constructed Recreation Center on Carrillo and Anacapa streets was getting ready to open its 850-seat auditorium. The seating seemed to be the star of the show, according to one article in the local paper. "The chairs are roomy and do not shake or collapse . . . Neither do the chairs squeak, and they are tasteful."

 

The Recreation Center was indeed well built. It would survive the 1925 earthquake, and moreover served as an emergency shelter in the quake's aftermath.

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: courtesy of John Woodward

Walks on the Mesa in the 1870s

 

The reporter for a local paper wrote about his walk in our area on a sunny morning in June. "The sunshine struck the Mesa early this morning and stayed there a long while." This remark might have made the news because, as we know, the month of June is known for its gloom. The writer could have been on the Mesa to check out the views, and recommend them to visitors.

 

"Of several different views [of Santa Barbara], two of the most remarkable and the most attractive are that from the old Mission … and that from the lower part of the Mesa, whereon a fine house is proposed … to be built." The "fine house" mentioned was Punta del Castillo, the Mesa's castle, the home of Thomas Bloodgood and Francisca De la Guerra Dibblee. This was one of the first Tuscan-style mansions built in the Santa Barbara area, and was located where the eastern campus of Santa Barbara City College is situated today. The mansion was damaged in the 1925 earthquake, and so is no longer with us.

 

Since the mansion was such a landmark, it was frequently commented upon in the press. To one writer, the home resembled a fort. "Dibblee's place on the Mesa presents the appearance of a fortification." It was jokingly suggested that it should have a gun aimed out to sea. (More about the Mesa in the 1870s next Monday.)

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Ancestry

 

Here are a couple of images that made me very happy when I was researching silent movies made in Montecito. I knew from reports in the local newspaper that this 1916 movie was filmed at a certain estate there. On the left is a scene from the movie Ancestry, and on the right is an image of the estate on an old postcard. If you look carefully, you can see that the location is the same.

 

Thanks to the fact that there are numerous early photographs of the Montecito estates, I was able to do similar match ups for about 20 movies of the 60+ movies filmed there.

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: courtesy of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation

California Led the Way to Prohibition

 

Prohibition of alcohol did not begin nationwide until January 1920, but the statewide ban on the sale of alcohol began in California on July 1, 1919. The Santa Barbara newspaper wrote, "All liquor stores closed in Santa Barbara at 10 o'clock last night. Beverages containing more than ½ of one percent alcohol are not to be sold or carried in interstate traffic. You may have wine, beer or whiskey in your home … last night at 10 o'clock … the windswept hulk of the old ship Booze sank beneath the mountainous waves of public opinion."

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: U.S. Patent Office

A French Inventor on the Mesa

 

Probably one of the most interesting characters who owned property on the Mesa was a Frenchman with the unusual name of Hippolyte Goujon, although he also went by the name Henry. He was a Mesa landowner for only a year, and owned only five acres.

 

In 1887, Peveril Meigs (for whom Meigs Road is named) sold Goujon a five-acre piece of land on the Mesa. And in 1888, just 53 weeks later, Goujon sold it back to Meigs. Meigs was a wealthy farmer and certainly didn't need the money. Why did he sell a part of his 110-acre farm to this Frenchman? Perhaps because they were both mechanically inclined. I discovered that in 1892, Goujon received a patent from the United States Government for "a new and Improved Puzzle Dice-Box."

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Image: Motion Picture Magazine, April 1916

The Highest Bid

 

Sultry Charlotte Burton starred in The Highest Bid, which was filmed in one of the mansions in Montecito in 1916. One reviewer wrote, "The Highest Bid is based on a story of love and high finance, the scenes of which stretch all the way from Wall Street to the Sierras." – Motion Picture News [New York, New York], July 8, 1916

 

She plays a young woman who lacks marketable skills, and is shopping around for a rich husband. [Spoiler alert – she actually finds two.]

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: courtesy of the Library of Congress

The Santa Barbara Red Cross Asks for Help

 

During the "Spanish Flu" in 1919, the local Red Cross was call­ing for any volunteers who had attended "home nursing" courses. "It is necessary at present to care for many small chil­dren whose parents are removed to the hospitals."

 

Girls and small children were being housed at St. Vincent's on De la Vina Street, and boys were staying at an­other institution. The flu even reached Santa Cruz Island and many of the men there were sick.

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: Mesa lighthouse, courtesy of John Fritsche

An 1876 Ramble on the Mesa

 

In 1876, there was an article in the local paper written by a writer called "Sara Gadabout," who described her walk around the Mesa one day. She started at the eastern end of the Mesa. "The Mesa has a beckoning look. I don't believe that I can resist it. Can you, friends? We won't, anyway … [she describes the views from the Mesa] Did you know Santa Barbara was so lovely till you saw it from this height? I did not … And turning to the mountains, see from over their tops, at the point where their curve is lowest, the gleam of a distant range lying cloudlike against the sky. The landscape viewed from this Mesa top is peculiarly suggestive, not only of beauty and sublimity, but of immensity."

 

Then she walked toward the area now called La Mesa Park. "Now we'll go on farther towards the lighthouse; not with rapid strides, but slowly, so that we can take in the whole picture of lovely cottages, and rounded hills, and the magnificent slope that extends to the sea, green with waving grain, its billows rolling and swelling in the breath of the wind in soundless harmony with those of the deep."

 

In case you missed it, you can view my recent ZOOM presentation - It Happened on the Mesa here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnSRF3ESaPw&t=795s 

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

The Better Wife

Has anyone ever seen anything like this? The Better Wife was filmed at one of the estates in Montecito in 1919, and at the other end of the country – Alabama – the film's title was used to advertise various household products in the Montgomery Advertiser, August 3, 1919.

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