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Way Back When in Santa Barbara, Mesa Memories, & Movies Way Back When

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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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Celebrating July 4 in 1915

 

In addition to the usual fireworks and parade, everyone in Santa Barbara gathered at the racetrack in the afternoon to watch the rodeo. There was a 3/4-mile dash, a "standing Roman race" (the rider stands on the backs of two horses), and a cowboy tug-of-war."

 

You can see the location of the racetrack on this 1897 map drawn by Alfred Poett. This area usually flooded in the winter, but was dry all summer long. It was used for races and circuses, and even as an airplane runway in 1919. This location is now the El Estero Water Resource Center. Somehow that just doesn't have the same pizazz.

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"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY

Image: Beyond the Rockies by Charles Augustus Stoddard, 1894

The Haunted Rock at Santa Barbara

 

In the course of doing research for MESApedia, I discovered a fictional tale from the 1800s that was set on the Mesa! The story was written by a local newspaper woman and published in The Overland Monthly magazine in 1873. The "lofty and rugged group of rocks" mentioned in the tale refers to the Castle Rock outcropping which was located near the base of the harbor breakwater. The "ancient ruin" in the story was inspired by a small Spanish fort located where Santa Barbara City College is today.

 

Here's the beginning, you can read the complete story at: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b4073287&view=1up&seq=427&q1=%22santa%20barbara%22

 

The Haunted Rock at Santa Barbara

By V. Forward Russell

 

"Immediately on the western limit of the town of Santa Barbara, a high, green tableland, or Mesa, rises from the ocean beach and extends for several miles up the coast. At one point at its foot, near the town, rises a lofty and rugged group of rocks, projecting huge masses into the ocean. Seabirds flit and call about their summits. At their base, the waves surge a perpetual harmony that rolls in heavy cadence, and, like a chorus of receding music, fades slowly away. The sea breeze blows over them, cool and invigorating, and beyond them, in infinite grandeur, stretches the boundless sea.

"The point of the tableland projecting seaward, and below which is piled the group of rocks, is the site of an ancient ruin; but after the rainy season, the land is covered with tall weeds, and visitor passes the spot many times without suspecting that the solitude of the place has ever been broken save by the steps of some wandering traveler like himself, or the call of the seabird, or the chirp of the rabbits and squirrels that now dart through the long grasses and burrow in the foundation of the ancient walls.

 

"I Meet an Old Man and Hear a Tale

"During one of my rambles many years ago, I was surprised at the appearance here of a very old man. He stood silent and motionless, and his gaze was fixed on what I now, for the first time, observed to be a circular rise of land, evidently the remains of a former wall or tower. He was dressed in the Spanish garb — tight breeches fastened with buttons of silver from the ankle to the loins, a scarf crossed over the bosom, and a black silk kerchief bound about the forehead. His hair fell in long white locks upon his shoulders, his form was tall but bent and, except that his eye was bright, I knew him to be very old. I advanced toward him, but he did not move. I accosted him, but he was silent, and I saw that his face wore an expression of deep and absorbing grief."

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SILENT MOVIES MADE IN MONTECITO

Image: Film Daily, September 7, 1923

Ashes of Vengeance

 

The so-called "silent movies" weren't really silent – music was generally played when the films were shown in theaters. And music was often played during the filming. Mournful music might be played to help the actors produce tears, ragtime music was played during lively party scenes, or period music might be played for historical dramas.

 

For example, while Ashes of Vengeance, a film set in 16th-century France, was being filmed at a Montecito estate, "only music of the time of Charles IX or his predecessors" was played, according to American Cinematographer [Los Angeles, California], 1923

 

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