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

"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: Pacific Rural Press, December 7, 1872

Olive Trees on the Mesa - Part 2

 

Way back in the 1800s, Mesa farmers knew that olive trees grew well on the Mesa. In 1866, Santa Barbara lawyer Charles Enoch Huse, a Mesa landowner, posted an ad in the Sacramento Daily Union, hoping to sell some of his Mesa land to farmers. "Best Farming Lands . . . Particularly well calculated for the growth of olives . . . Climate unsurpassed in the state." Mesa farmers who had olive trees included Jonathan Mayhew, Henry Lewis Garfield, Ludwell Gains Oliver, Peveril Meigs, and John John (no that's not a typo; his name was John John).

 

Peveril Meigs (for whom Meigs Road is named) even produced his own olive oil here. The oil was said to be "the equal of any produced in California." And the Pacific Rural Press noted that his olives had won a prize at the Santa Barbara County Fair.

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Image: Internet Movie Database

The 1928 film Oh, Kay! was based on a Gershwin musical comedy that takes place in a mansion. While it might seem strange to us that a silent film based on a musical would appeal to audiences, it was popular in smaller towns where the live version of the play had not been performed.

 

"Colleen Moore sure fire ... Stage show of "Oh Kay" had never reached here, which gave the picture a nice break." [Kansas City theater owner opinion] – "Variety" [New York, New York], September 19, 1928

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

Image: Library of Congress

A couple of Santa Barbara men wrote a popular patriotic song in 1917

 

During World War I, John Christian, an African-American man who worked as a steward at the SB Elks Club, wrote the lyrics to a patriotic song titled, "Uncle Sam is a Grand Old Man." The music was written by another local, George Clerbois.

 

The chorus ends:

"When he starts to fight, you bet he's right:

Uncle Sam is a grand old man."

 

On New Year's Eve in 1918, a group of folks assembled on the steps of the Post Office [now the Santa Barbara Museum of Art] and sang the song. Christian later received a letter of thanks from California Governor William Stephens.

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Photo: Historian Neal Graffy checks out an olive tree near the school. Image: Betsy J. Green

Olive Trees on the Mesa- Part 1

 

The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean and has been growing there for thousands of years. Some of the trees in that area are believed to be more than 2,000 years old. Generally, the older the tree, the broader and more gnarled the trunk. Based on this description, there are several very old olive trees right here on the Mesa, near the main door of Washington School on Lighthouse Road. Not thousands of years old, but possibly more than a hundred. Mesa farmers were growing olive trees in the 1870s.

 

So how old are the olive trees near the Washington School? I asked Steve Junak, former botanist at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, what he thought. He agreed that the olive tree in the photo looked ancient, but said it would be difficult to put an exact age on the tree.

 

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Image: Wikimedia

The "Riso Rivo" (laughing brook) estate in Montecito, CA was the location for several films, and it's easy to see why. 

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

Image: 1915 car, courtesy of New York Public Library

Herbert Earlscliffe of Montecito was cranking the starter on his car in February 1914 when something went horribly wrong and he ended up with a broken arm.


Dana Newquist, local classic car collector, told me, "Most cars into the mid 30s had 'crank holes' at the base of the radiator shell for insertion of the crank. … The danger of the crank happens when a person is turning the engine over using the crank and the car 'backfires.' A backfire forces the engine to abruptly reverse direction. If your arm is turning the crank in a clockwise direction when a backfire occurs, the result is often a broken arm."


Ouch! If only Herbert had waited a year! In 1915, a Dayton, Ohio man named Charles Kettering received a patent for the electrical starter motor. He went on to become the founder of Delco. The name Delco comes from Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company. 

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: Postcard courtesy of John Fritsche

The Lady Lighthouse Keeper - Part 2


The Santa Barbara Lighthouse was located on the Mesa about where Mesa Park is today. Julia Frances Williams served as the lighthouse keeper for 40 years. Her husband was an alcoholic, so she supported the family and raised six kids.


But she still was able to take a few moments now and then to appreciate the beauty of her domain. "I go up the stairs in the early evening . . . and light the lamps. I love to watch the beams flash out over the waters. It is wonderful how bright it will be on a stormy night when the clouds almost seem to be resting on the crests of those tossing waves. Then, again, at midnight, always, I come up again to see that all is well. It is then that I love best to stand and watch the sea. When it is calm and peaceful under the light of the moon or just the stars, the silence and majesty of it is inspiring."

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Image: Santa Barbara Morning Press, December 14, 1915

Movie companies from the LA-Hollywood area that came to Montecito to film often used the mansions or formal gardens on the big estates. But in 1915, Santa Barbara's "Flying A" studio used a wooded canyon in Montecito to represent the Canadian North Woods for Alice of Hudson Bay. This is believed to be the first movie set in Hudson Bay.

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

Image: Bird Lore, 1918

A Nature Photographer in Santa Barbara

 

In a 1918 birding magazine, a photographer here wrote about how he photographed a humming bird in his garden.

 

"When the mother was away foraging, I covered the camera with green leaves, focused it upon the nest, then drew a thread, which I had attached to the shutter, into a room that looked down upon the nest, and there awaited the mother's return at dinner-hour. I am sure that she carried a watch, for dinner was always served promptly between 1:30 and 2:00." 

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: Land of Sunshine, 1896

The Lady Lighthouse Keeper - Part 1

 

Her name was Julia Frances Williams. She was the Mesa Lighthouse Keeper from 1865 until 1905. A neighbor in 1881 described her as a "wonderfully smart woman." She was also physically tough — she had to climb three sets of stairs twice a night in a long skirt to reach the light in the tower.

 

And she had a great sense of humor. In 1889, there was a rumor that a whale had washed up on the beach. When Julia discovered that it was a hoax, she quipped, "It was nothing but a fish story." And she was fond of saying that her job description was "light housekeeping." 

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