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

"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Another Mesa Crop of the 1800s

 

One crop that was apparently a novelty to local growers in the early days here was lima beans. Although pronounced LIME-uh today, the beans were originally from LEEM-uh (Lima), Peru.

 

Mesa farmer Jonathan Mayhew is said to have introduced lima beans to Santa Barbara in 1867. He had grown them in the Bay Area and brought some with him when he moved to the Mesa. He gave some to a Mesa neighbor to plant, but the neighbor liked them so much, he cooked them and ate them all.

 

But that was not the end of lima beans on the Mesa. In 1871, the local paper wrote, "Capt. Mayhew, who resides on the Light House mesa two miles south west of town, informs us that he intends to plant a hundred acres to Lima beans this season. He has secured his seed and has the plowing done. He finds this variety of bean more profitable than any other." – Santa Barbara Press, April 1, 1871

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Image: Reel Life, December 27, 1913

The big estates were not the only places in Montecito where early movies were filmed. The Power of Light was filmed in Sycamore Canyon which was used to represent a remote wooded area where moonshiners operated an illegal still. The movie was released in 1914.

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: Santa Barbara Daily News & Independent, May 23, 1914

Panama Hats in Season

 

Why Is This Dude Smiling? He's thinking about buying a spiffy new Panama hat, according to this ad from The Great Wardrobe. That store, located at 833 State Street, opened in 1886 and was one of the premier clothing stores in Santa Barbara through the 1940s.

 

Panama hats don't really come from Panama — they are made in Ecuador. Why the name Panama? The hats are sent to Panama and shipped from there and, of course, once the Panama Canal opened, they must have been popular souvenirs. (The canal was finished in August 1914.)

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: Encyclopedia of Food, Artemas Ward, 1923

Mesa Farms of Yesteryear - Radishes & Avocados

This time of year, the local farmers' markets and farm stands in Santa Barbara are overflowing with fruits and. Back in the 1800s, far more people grew their own vegetables, especially here on the Mesa which was dotted with farms — both large and small. In the 1870s and 1880s, farming and farmers were often written about in the local newspapers.

Some of the newspaper reports concerned oddities – enormous vegetables or new or unfamiliar items. In 1882, a Santa Barbara paper reported that Mesa farmer Leonard Babcock grew a radish 28 inches long and 34-1/2 inches in circumference. It was the talk of the town and was exhibited at the Arlington Hotel, Santa Barbara's premier hotel back then.

 

Some of the first avocados in Santa Barbara may have been planted on the Mesa. In 1873, Dr. James L. Ord, a Mesa landowner, made the news when he came back from a trip to Mexico with several trees that needed explaining to locals. The newspaper called the trees aguacate or "vegetable butter" trees. (Aguacate is the Spanish word for avocado.) The paper said that they were a "fine fruit" and would be planted at once.

 

I'll write about more food grown on the Mesa in future posts.

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Image: Edson Smith collection, Santa Barbara Public Library
The All-Saints-by-the Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito was a stand-in for a church in Charles Dickens’ England in one early movie. The minister who gave permission for the 1914 film to be made at the church said he had never seen a movie, and had no wish to see the one made at his church!
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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: New York Public Library

Halloween Cancelled by Flu

 

What will Halloween be like in 2020? Back in October 1918, the "Spanish influenza" scare was alarming the parents of trick-or-treaters, and put a damper on the demons on the streets of Santa Barbara. Although it was not stated in the local papers, I'm guessing that there was also enough news about deaths from disease and World War I that folks lost their joy in celebrating the macabre.

 

The local paper wrote, "Flu puts quietus on even decorous revelry in celebration of Halloween. The Board of Health has issued orders forbidding ghosts to walk or congregate on Halloween this year, owing to the prevalence of the Spanish influenza."

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: The Successful American, 1899

KOWALSKI - PART 2

 

This is the second part of my post about the San Francisco attorney Colonel Henry Isaac Kowalsky and how his name ended up on a street in Santa Barbara.

 

Here's how it happened. Just about a month before the first train from Los Angeles reached Santa Barbara in 1887, Kowalsky bought 130 acres on the Mesa. The land was north of Cliff Drive and east of Meigs Road. Kowalsky did not live in Santa Barbara. He bought the land as an investment. This was a boom time for Santa Barbara, because everyone knew that the train would bring more visitors to our fair city, and property values would rise. Kowalsky bought the Mesa property on July 16. The first train arrived on August 19, 1887.

 

He bought numerous pieces of land elsewhere in Santa Barbara at about this time. One of the properties was on Santa Barbara's west side about where Gillespie and Robbins streets intersect with Micheltorena. And this is the area in which Kowalski Avenue is located.

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Image: Motography, August 23, 1913

For the Flag

 

This 1913 movie takes place about 1900 during the Philippine-American War, which was fresh in people's minds in 1913, but is mostly forgotten today. A young soldier named Jack, newly graduated from West Point, is wrongly accused of messing with his captain's wife, so he changes his name and heads off to fight in the Philippines. And, wouldn't you know it, his old troop and the captain end up there as well. (Where would movies be without coincidences?)

 

For the Flag is set in West Point and the Philippines, and was filmed at a couple of the large estates in Montecito. It starred Jack Warren Kerrigan and Vivian Rich.

 

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: The Successful American, 1899

Kowalski Street? Part 1
Most folks in Santa Barbara have no idea why there is a street named Kowalski on the north side of the Mesa. It's named for Colonel Henry Isaac Kowalsky, an attorney from San Francisco. (The street name is spelled incorrectly.)


Kowalsky was born in Buffalo, New York in 1859, and his family moved to California when he was a kid. In 1880, he was admitted to the bar. He was known for his talent for public speaking which made him a popular after-dinner speaker. "The Colonel . . . always has a great knack of storytelling and a quick eye for a humorous situation . . . His humorous tales are setting many tables in a roar." (Oakland Tribune, September 5, 1909)


In addition to his fame as a speaker, he was also infamous for his size. It was estimated that he tipped the scales at about 300 pounds, and he was known for being hard on courtroom furniture. During one long case in 1911, the San Francisco Call wrote two lengthy articles about courtroom chairs that fell short, or just fell down, under his weight.


"When Heavyweight Attorney Awakes in Judge Graham's Court, Furniture Goes to Ruin," was the headline. "The chairs on which the Colonel has sat have unanimously collapsed. In six weeks . . . the Colonel has wrecked no fewer than 12 chairs – count 'em – 12 – two a week." Apparently, the Colonel had a habit of dozing off, and when he woke with a jerk, the chairs gave way.


After the twelfth chair was reduced to kindling, Kowalsky ponied up and bought a heavy-duty chair. "Kowalsky Gives Chair to Court," was the next headline. "Corpulent Attorney has Made Furniture Guaranteed Not to Break." The Colonel arrived at the court with "a strong, ironbound oak chair calculated to sustain the heaviest lawyer alive. And the portly Colonel presented the chair to the court."


Kowalsky never lived here. In next week's post, I'll reveal why there is a street named after this large-and-in-charge attorney.

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Image: Moving Picture Weekly,
January 24, 1920

The Phantom Melody

 

Because of the tremendous loss of life due to World War I and the "Spanish Flu" pandemic, there was a lot of interest in the afterlife in the early 1920s. This 1920 film is set in a mansion in Italy during World War I. It's the eternal triangle all over again – two men love the same woman. However, this story is livened up – so to speak – by one of the men being buried alive by his rival.

 

But no problema! The guy who was buried alive somehow manages to escape from his coffin, although the trauma has turned his hair white and nobody recognizes him when he returns.

 

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