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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

An Eye in the Sky


One hundred years ago, Santa Barbara had the Lockheed seaplanes taking off from the beach here, so it's not surprising that we had an aerial camera. This camera took still photos, not moving images. It was developed by a cameraman at the "Flying A" and took 8 x 10" negatives. When King Albert of Belgium visited Santa Barbara in October, he asked to examine this cutting-edge piece of photographic equipment. (Image: Motion Picture News, December 13, 1919)


(These "Way Back When" Wednesday posts are excerpts from the newly released book "Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1919." Available at and Santa Barbara bookstores.)

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Ed Borein's Home (part 1)

La Barranca is just a street name in the Mesa neighborhood of Santa Barbara now, but for almost 50 years, it was the Southwestern-style home of the famous cowboy artist Ed Borein (1872 – 1945), one of the early Mesa artists.

Born in San Leandro, California, Borein worked as a cowboy in California and Mexico in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the last decades of the Old West. At night, he would sit in the bunkhouse and sketch what he had seen during the day. In 1900, the "San Francisco Call" newspaper began purchasing some of his sketches and stories, and eventually Borein decided to hang up his boots and spurs and take up a sketch pad and pencil instead.

He studied in New York for a while and then moved back West in 1921 and settled in Santa Barbara. He had a studio/shop on the Street in Spain on East De la Guerra Street next to the Casa de la Guerra adobe. In 1923, he and his wife Lucille built their dream home on the edge of the cliff on the Mesa. The building permit for the home showed an estimated cost of $3,000. A small canyon or barranca ran through the property, so they baptized their home "La Barranca."

(More about the home next week.)

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

The End of the World – or Not 

A century ago, Professor Albert Porta of San Francisco was described as "an Italian gentleman, architect, mathematician, astronomer and meteorological and seismological prophet," according to the "Oakland Tribune." And he certainly made waves nationwide in December 1919 when he predicted an earthshaking disaster on December 17, based on his reading of sun spots.


"According to Professor Albert F. Porta, we are to have on December 17, the greatest sun spot of all history; one that will fairly cause this old earth to reel into the greatest weather cataclysm ever known. There will be hurricanes, earthquakes, rains, storms and volcanic disturbances, the like of which were never known," warned "The Missoulian" newspaper of Montana. The Santa Barbara paper added, "Throughout the country, the prediction has been circulating, and is causing fear and trepidation." Ministers of Santa Barbara churches discussed the dire prediction in their sermons.


However, December 17 came and went, and the world moved on to the next day in the calendar. "All arrangements for family gatherings and festivities on Christmas Day will be made with perfect safety," the local paper reported, "as there was no shakeup of the planets yesterday." Whew! (Image: Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, North Carolina, December 18, 1919)


These "Way Back When" Wednesday posts are excerpts from the newly released book "Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1919 - The Best Stories of the Year."



First-ever tailgate book signing event - I'll be parked near Chaucers bookstore on Saturday, Dec. 14 from 2 to 3:30. You can buy one or more of my books at Chaucers, and I will be happy to sign the, pose for a selfie, etc


I will also be signing my books at the Santa Barbara Arts gift shop in La Arcada on Sunday, Dec. 15 from noon-2 p.m. Stop by and say "hi" to me and the La Arcada Christmas turtles Prancer, Dancer, and Vixen.

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Weldon of Weldon Road (part 2)

The Reverend S.R. Weldon was 49 years old when he arrived here in 1872. He had been a minister at a church in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, a tiny community on a small island in Lake Erie, north of the United States mainland from 1867 until 1872. He came to California for health reasons.


He wasted no time in establishing himself as the local expert in the field of science, especially astronomy. On November 13, 1872, he purchased 140 acres on the Mesa, and on December 14, the Santa Barbara "Times" reported that he would be giving a lecture on the moon, and said that he "has made a specialty of the study of Astronomy."


In 1877, another Santa Barbara paper, the "Weekly Press," called his residence "a model home," that was "one of the prettiest suburban homes in town … It is situated on the brow of the Mesa and commands a magnificent view of both the valley and the ocean. The house stands in its own grounds and is approached by a winding road and carriage drive. It is surrounded by a young plantation of shade trees, and on the slope down towards the valley, a pine plantation gives a beautiful effect to the whole picture." (The home is no longer here.)


Weldon died in 1887 at the age of 63. The "Morning Press" wrote, "He was a well-known and highly respected citizen and his loss will be severely felt." Today, the Mesa's astronomer is remembered by Weldon Road, a curving street that connects Cliff Drive and Loma Alta Drive.


Weldon is one of many of the Mesa's early residents who are profiled in MESApedia, written by yours truly. MESApedia is available in Santa Barbara bookstores and gift shops, and at


(Image: courtesy of NASA)

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"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 if you live outside the area).

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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 and in Santa Barbara bookstores.)

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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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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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