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


A Movie Dog Misbehaves


Although some folks are unhappy that there will be no fireworks this July 4, the dogs of Santa Barbara are jumping for joy. Which brings to mind a movie dog named Peter who was jumping around in Santa Barbara back in 1914. He jumped into the lake, during the filming of a "Flying A" movie at Laguna Blanca in Hope Ranch, when he wasn't supposed to.


As part of the action in the film, an actor, who was Peter's owner and trainer in real life, was thrown into the lake. Pe­ter, who, like some people, had trouble differentiating between Real Life and Art (or Real Life and Reel Life) jumped into the lake and "rescued" his owner, thereby spoiling the take. Oops! Bad dog! (Peter is on the left.)

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The 1925 Quake on the Mesa


Today, June 29th, 2020 is the 95th anniversary of the disastrous earthquake that rocked the city of Santa Barbara. There was extensive damage on State Street, but the earthquake was also felt here on the Mesa as well.


At 1101 Luneta Plaza, Santa Barbara City Manager Herbert Nunn was just waking up when the big one hit at 6:42 a.m. His gripping on-the-spot report of the temblor later appeared in The Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.


"At the moment of the shock I was sitting on the edge of the bed, … and was thrown upon my back. Preceding the shock there was a heavy rumbling sound similar to that of thunder, which apparently came from directly underneath. There was a barely perceptible interval between the rumbling sound and the shock. ... The [first] violent shock was followed instantaneously by a rapid vertical vibration, which I vividly remember.


"I immediately ran from my bedroom to the front lawn. ... As I stepped from the front porch …, I was thrown violently. ... My wife and the gardener, … stepping from a tiled porch to the grass ... both were thrown violently down. ... The roof was vibrating with sufficient force to break the tiles."


The Mesa lighthouse tower, built of granite, nearly collapsed on the lighthouse keeper and her family. The Morning Press wrote, "she rushed out with her family just in time to hear the light tower crash through the roof of the rooms they had left." (Our lighthouse was later replaced with a beacon.)


A couple of other Mesa residences were also severely damaged. One was the home of cowboy artist Ed Borein. His home, called La Barranca, had been built to resemble a Southwestern Pueblo. The Morning Press called it "one of the show places of the west side." It was completely destroyed. (Borein later built a frame house of a similar design, which Mesa Rats of the 1950s dubbed The Alamo.)


The largest and most spectacular home on the Mesa was severely damaged and later demolished. The 1880's home called Punta del Castillo was designed by premier Santa Barbara architect Peter J. Barber for Thomas B. Dibblee. Commonly known as "Dibblee's Castle," it had been Santa Barbara's very first estate in the modified Tuscan-villa style, according to the book Material Dreams.


The Mesa landscape was also changed forever. Castle Rock, a huge chunk of rock on the beach, which was once one of the most popular tourist destinations in Santa Barbara, had its profile greatly altered. Near the lighthouse, the quake shook loose a large piece of the cliff which crashed into the ocean. A set of stairs known as "Lovers' Nook" that led down to the beach, perhaps at Santa Cruz Boulevard, was filled with rocks. The Morning Press joked that "something must be done about it right away to guarantee the happiness of the young and amorous generation."

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Image: Cinema News and Property Gazette, January 15, 1913

The Law of God


This 1912 one-reel movie is the third religious one made in Montecito. Jim, an atheist, falls in love with a minister's daughter. (You can see where this story is headed.) She and her father give him the heave-ho, so he joins a gang of robbers, which pretty much confirms their assessment of his character, I'd say.


The gang of robbers is apprehended, and they all do time. When Jim gets out of the slammer, he visits the girl and her dad, tells them he is reformed, and all is forgiven. (This is the third movie made in Montecito, and the third with a religious theme.)

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Image: from "Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1917," photo courtesy of Motion Picture News, January 12, 1918

Mermaids on Santa Cruz Island


In June 1917, out on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Santa Barbara, a cast of 66 actors and actresses was filming Sirens of the Sea, featuring a bevy of beau­ties adorned with shreds of seaweed and not much else (remember, we were still in the days before movie cen­sorship).


In the words of one movie poster advertising this film, "As long as men love women, the posters of Sirens of the Sea will crowd your theatre. The female form in all its divinity enhanced by marvelous natural scenery." Another ad gushed, "Sirens of the Sea is the most allur­ing, seductive, eye-feasting picture of beautiful women ever put on any screen."

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Image: 1877 bird's-eye view by Eli Sheldon Glover

Cliff Drive in 1874


In 1874, a local reporter drove up to the Mesa with a horse and carriage to give his readers a "you are there" description of what the Mesa looked like. He traveled along what is now Cliff Drive. At that time, the road was called the Mesa Road, and only went about as far west as the present-day Monroe Elementary School:


"The older residents, we presume, know all about the beauties and pleasure of such a drive, but there may be others here who do not. The road is flanked by a range of hills on the one hand, so regular in their outline as to look like artificial mounds and stretching away on the other side are green fields, and the blue ocean beyond, with its mountains and islands arising therefrom. We enjoyed the ride so much that we were sorry when we came to a fence which compelled us to turn and retrace our way back to town. Still, we found almost as much enjoyment viewing the same scenes a second time. If you desire to spend an hour or two pleasantly, select a clear day and take a drive on the Mesa Road."

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Image: scene from The New Faith

The New Faith


In this 1911 one-reel movie, a Roman patrician is intrigued by a slave girl who is a Christian, which is what the New Faith is all about. When she saves his life by pulling a tarantula off his neck, he falls for her – and her religion.


So, he invites her to shack up with him. She admits she loves him, but declines his kind offer of an extramarital relationship: "Over my dead body!" Somehow, that makes him love her even more.


This is the second movie filmed in Montecito, and the second with a religious theme.

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Image: courtesy of

"We Regret to Inform You . . . "


In addition to families receiving the dreaded telegram about young men killed on the battlefields of Europe in 1918, Santa Barbara families were also receiving telegrams about enlisted men who died of the Spanish flu in army camps shortly after leaving home.


In November 1918, the families of William P. Fasioli and Dennison Ernest Christensen learned that their sons had died in camps in California.

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Image: 1871 County of Santa Barbara map

Early Roads on the Mesa


In 1873, the City of Santa Barbara's Street Committee began considering building a road to reach the Mesa. (Present-day Cliff Drive – a.k.a. the Mesa Road – did not exist yet.) One suggestion was to extend Gutierrez Street up to the Mesa. This proposal was rejected, however, and the committee began to investigate the possibility of using other streets as a means of accessing the Mesa. There were no roads on the Mesa, according to an 1871 map.


Why didn't they use Carrillo Street? The reason – the Carrillo Street hillside used to be much steeper than it is today. According to historian Neal Graffy, "Somewhere between 1964 and 1967, West Carrillo was finally extended to connect to Meigs Road and the Mesa."

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Scene from The Roman

The Roman


This 1910 one-reel religious drama was the first movie to be filmed here. The Roman stars Hobart Bosworth who, despite his unwieldy name, was a respected stage actor who switched to silent movies because of voice problems. He plays the part of Spurious Maelius, another guy with a name problem. Believe it or not, Spurious is actually a good guy in this movie. Go figure!


This is one of the 60+ movies that I discovered in my research for a book about silent movies made in Montecito.

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How to Dig into the History of Your City, Town, or Neighborhood

What's your home's history?


If you're working from home and/or spending more time at home these days, you might begin to wonder about the home itself, who else lived there, how long the home has been there, or what your neighborhood was like way back when.


The Atlas Obscura website has a new article called "How to Dig into the History of Your City, Town, or Neighborhood." Here's the link - copy and paste:


Happy hunting!

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