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

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

Damaged Goods

In October 1919, Santa Barbara's "Flying A" studio re-released this film about sexually transmitted disease in 1914, and it caused quite a stir in an era when people only talked about such matters in hushed tones.

 

A "nice" young man from a good family royally screws up his life when he goes out drinking with friends, sleeps with a prostitute, and contracts syphilis. A century ago, the treatment for this disease took two years. The young man, however, marries before his treatment is complete. When the couple's child is born with syphilis and is mentally retarded, his wife walks out. And as the movie ends, the young man walks into the sea.

 

One theater owner said, "Had to call police to handle the crowds trying to get into the theater last night. There were 300 people waiting in line when the theater opened in the morning." (Image: Moving Picture World, January 27, 1917)

All the "Way Back When" Wednesday posts from this year are part of the many items in my latest book Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1919. Available in Santa Barbara bookstores and at Amazon.com beginning in November 2019.

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

The Olivers of Oliver Road - part 2

 

The Olivers spent several years in northern California before settling in Santa Barbara. They worked hard, saved their money, and looked around for a good spot to settle down. They liked the Mesa. On October 28, 1868, L.G. handed $2,035 in gold coins to Jonathan Mayhew, a Mesa farmer, in exchange for 101+ acres of land west of the Mesa lighthouse. (The lighthouse, which stood near La Mesa Park, was destroyed in the 1925 earthquake.) L.G. and his family lived and farmed on the Mesa for the next 32 years.

Over the years, the Olivers grew hay and corn (1500 bushels one year). The 1880 farm census showed that they owned six oxen (probably to pull the plow), and were raising 90 chickens and 90 pigs. The pigs were used for producing lard and hams. The family also had a windmill, probably to draw water from a well. In 1869, records show that the family (probably Kate) produced 500 pounds of butter. Their home was most likely on or near the ocean side of Mesa Road, now called Cliff Drive, west of Meigs Road.

When L.G. died in 1900, he was described as "one of the best known of the older residents of Santa Barbara." After his death, Kate moved to Chico to live with her son. She died in 1905. Both of the Oliver brothers died in 1940. But the name of the Olivers' Mesa farm lives on in Oliver Road, which was named in the mid-1920s and is still here today.

(The Olivers, and other early Mesa families, are covered in MESApedia - the early years of Santa Barbara's Mesa.)

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

Great Guns!

Back in October 1919, some of the soldiers returning from the war in Europe brought back souvenirs from the battlefield such as German helmets or other items. But no one in Santa Barbara had anything quite as spectacular as the German cannon that was gifted to the city for raising money to help pay off the war debt in record time. "The first week of the campaign, Santa Barbara had secured over half of her quota of the loan which showed a fine spirit of patriotism."

 

It was described as a 108-millimeter 1918 German cannon. "The cannon will be mounted in front of the Federal Building [the Post Office; now the Santa Barbara Museum of Art].

 

The cannon is visible at the left of the building. (Image: courtesy of John Woodward)

 

All the "Way Back When" Wednesday posts from this year are part of the many items in my latest book Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1919. Available in Santa Barbara bookstores and at Amazon.com beginning in November 2019.

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

The Olivers of Oliver Road - part 1

Lately, I've posted about street names on the Mesa that come from Spanish. Here's one street that is named for an American family.

 

They loaded up their covered wagon, gathered their cattle and children, said good-by to Iowa, and headed to California with a prayer on their lips and hope in their hearts. It was April 10, 1861. The Oliver family was headed by L.G. Oliver and his wife Kate. L.G., whose full name was Ludwell Gains, was 35. Kate (Catherine) was 30. They had two children — daughter Lydia E. was eight; son C.A. (Cassius Adolphus) was six. (Their son John Blair would be born later in California in 1864.)

 

They spent more than five months on the trail before they arrived in San Francisco on September 24. Along the way, they traversed mud holes, ferried across rivers, and endured windstorms and encounters with Native Americans. Once, while crossing a primitive bridge, their wagon fell into a stream. Kate feared her children would perish. "My pencil fails to portray my feeling during the moments of suspense and agony," she wrote in her diary. Fortunately, the children survived, but the family's possessions were soaked.

 

Next week, in part 2, I'll post about their arrival in Santa Barbara.

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