Santa Barbara Then and Now – Book Signings

Santa Barbara Then and Now - Book Signings

Santa Barbara Then and Now can be purchased at Chaucer’s Books, Santa Barbara Arts, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, the Santa Barbara Art Museum Bookstore and Tecolote Books. It will soon be available online at http://www.elbarbareno.com

Book Release Party & Signing
Saturday, February 9th, 12:30 to 3
Petrini’s in Goleta, 5711 Calle Real, Meet the designer, photographers, sponsors and have them all sign your book.

Book Signings
Sunday, February 10, 11 to 3
Santa Barbara Arts, La Arcada Court, 1114 State; Wednesday, February 13, 7pm to 9pm
Chaucer’s Books, Loreto Plaza, 3321 State
Saturday, February 16, 11 to 3
Santa Barbara Arts, La Arcada Court, 1114 State

Lecture and Book Signing
Wednesday, March 6, 11 to 1
Santa Barbara Historical Museum, 136 E. de la Guerra
Call 966-0611 for reservations and info.

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A Hotel in Mission Canyon?

A Hotel in Mission Canyon?
By Neal Graffy XNGH
December 13, 2009

For such a small piece of Santa Barbara, Mission Canyon has had just about one of everything, including, of all things, a hotel.

You’d never have known it from the headline that appeared in The Morning Press of September 14, 1913, which simply stated “Artistic New Home in Mission Canyon”. And even the article left less than an impression of forthcoming professional lodging…

“A saunterer up Mission Canyon, after leaving the bridge over the creek bed and keeping to the right side of the winding road will come shortly upon twin pyramids of rocks which guard the entrance to an attractive woodsy driveway. Following this for a short distance he will arrive at a handsome stone residence in a spot so secluded and sunny as to seem the very abode of pleasure and peace.

“This is the new dwelling into which Mrs. Florence M Weston, late of Garden Street, will move on October first, and where she expects to shelter many lovers of Santa Barbara who can sojourn here for a time more or less limited, and who will appreciate the atmosphere of a hospitable home with a Dixie dinner in the evening.”

The site of the new hotel, “Rockwood” was just past “Rocky Nook”, the home of George and Frances Oliver. The property was owned by Enoch J. Marsh, who had bought the 1.5 acres in October 1892, for $229, from Bishop Thaddeus Amat.

Mr. Marsh was a music teacher and author, and as such, he may have been the Enoch J. Marsh who penned, “Practical Shorthand on Seven Simple Principles: For Common Use and Verbatim Reporting. A Progressive Textbook by the Natural Method”, which I’m sure was a best seller. His wife, Mary was also a music teacher, and their son Arthur was an “inventor” before changing his occupation to “architect”.

That latter piece of information may explain some questions. From the news article, it appeared that Mrs. Weston had perhaps built the “new dwelling”. A little checking into her background showed she was a widow (her husband was a machinist, and probably died in 1911), and was the mother of five children of whom four had reached adulthood, with the youngest being 18 in 1913. It didn’t appear she would have had the money to build the hotel. Arthur Marsh had stated that he had, “built the home for his parents”, so I suspect the Rockwood Hotel may have originally been the Marsh home, modified as needed – including the construction of five cottages – for a place of quiet, restful lodging, and leased to Mrs. Weston.

From a 1920 account, the promise of a “Dixie dinner” appeared to be in the hands of two cooks, one appropriately from Georgia, and the other from “Saxony, Germany” with an Armenian waiter serving the savory meals.

Ms. Weston disappears from the story around 1921. The hotel was then managed by Gus and Helen Berg for two years, and were followed by Fred and Mabel Trevillian.

Disaster struck on the evening of February 8, 1927, when a fire erupted, started by a broken pipe in the boiler room. None of the 12 guests were injured, but the main building and two of five cottages were lost, with an estimated value of $60,000. According to legend, the city fire department was the first to respond, but stopped at the Mission Creek Bridge, the dividing line between the city and county, when they saw the fire was on the county side.

However, the disaster proved most beneficial to the Santa Barbara Woman’s Club, which had been searching for a new site for their club house. They bought the property from Enoch Marsh for $17,000, hired the architecture firm of Edwards, Plunkett and Howell for the building, and Lockwood de Forest for the grounds. The total cost, including property, construction, furnishings, equipment and landscape came to $71,478.53.

But bits and pieces of the old hotel are still there. Two of the surviving cottages were incorporated into the clubhouse as Sycamore Hall and Periwinkle Lodge. Portions of the patio were retained, and the “twin pyramids of rocks” still stand guard at the old driveway. On one of them, you will find the name “Rockwood”, etched into a stone near the base, and that name still lives on as the official name for the Woman’s Club property.

Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection

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The Hotel Californian

The Hotel Californian
By Neal Graffy XNGH
December 13, 2009

The poor, old Californian Hotel was back in the news this week, so I thought we’d “check in” to the history of that once-proud hostelry.

After nearly five months of construction, on June 18th, 1925, the new Hotel Californian opened its doors at the southwest corner of State and Mason. Built of brick and composition stone, the $300,000 hotel offered 100 rooms with fresh or salt-water baths, one of only two hotels on the Pacific coast to offer such amenities.

The rooms were nicely furnished, and each had its own bath and phone. They were proudly advertised as “soundproof” due to “button lath used between walls with dead air space of several inches to prevent noise”. Rates started at $2.50 a room for single occupancy. This was perhaps 50 cents to a dollar higher than the comparable downtown hotels – the Neal, Faulding, Virginia, and Barbara – but it was closer to the ocean and did have those salt-water baths. The owners were “assured of immediate success because of its position between the waterfront and the Southern Pacific station.”

Eleven days later, on Monday, June 29 the hotel truly had its grand opening. At approximately 6:42 AM, a 6.2 (estimated) earthquake rocked Santa Barbara. Inside the Californian, the wood framing swayed, along with the rolling seismic waves. Outside, it was a different matter. The brick and mortar were resistant to the new dance and stood their ground – temporarily. Basically, the interior hammered the exterior until the building shed its brick coat and took on the appearance of a sliced open beehive, thereupon becoming one of the most photographed buildings of the event.

A number of interior doors were jammed tight, and the occupants tied sheets together and climbed down from room to room. W. H. Scott, a businessman staying at the hotel, remembered the walls “swaying back and forth like an accordion”. Clad in his pajamas, he was able to get out of the hotel and down to the street before a shower of bricks and mortar rained down. Looking back, he saw a man standing on the third floor of his now wall-less room, “screaming at the top of his lungs for a taxi”.

The Californian was repaired, and soon after bought by one of Santa Barbara’s premier innkeepers, Neal Callahan, who also owned the Neal Hotel and the Barbara Hotel. Unfortunately, he didn’t own it for too long. True hotelman that he was, Callahan “checked out” while sitting in the lobby of the Californian, on Wednesday evening, September 26, 1928. He was 58.

His wife, Jennie ran it for a few years before she turned it over to Umberto Dardi, a man of many hats, and just one in a long line of interesting characters involved in the hotel.

The best years for the Californian were probably the late twenties into the 1940s. This postcard shows the beautiful canvas awnings that hung from the balconies and gave it a feeling of eloquence and grandeur. One would certainly have no trouble identifying the hotel with the name spelled out three times across the front!

Who needed Starbucks? At left, “A Coffee Shop De Luxe Provides Quality and Service Without Extravagance”, while at right, “The Bedrooms Provide Comfort in all Seasons – Sea Breeze in Summer and Steam Heat in the Winter”. Each room was an outside room with “perfect Vistas of Mountain and Sea”. It was not an idle boast that the, “Hotel Californian adds Comfort to the Charm of Nature’s Gifts.”

Following the war, lower State Street started on its slow downward spiral. Despite their best efforts to attract guests, the Californian and similar downtown hotels were losing out to the new motels along the beachfront and outer State Street, where a traveling family could find better accommodations with convenient parking and pools for the kids. By the 1970s, the Californian was looking a little seedy adorned with all those signs, but still, it held its head high, boasting it was, “overlooking West Beach and the Yacht Harbor and was but a few minutes walk to the beautiful new six block Shopping Mall, Theaters, Bus and Train Depots and Civic Offices”.

The hotel did seem to suffer from an identify crisis. Starting around the mid-1940s, the name changed from the Hotel Californian to the Californian Hotel. A brochure from the mid1950s used both names, and in the early ‘60s the “n” was dropped to make it the “California Hotel”, but the letter returned a few years later, and the Californian Hotel it has been ever since.

The lodging aspects aside, generations of Santa Barbarans fondly remember the Lei Lani Room (above), a place where everything could and did seem to happen, a trend certainly continued with its successor – Rocky Galenti’s – once a part of restaurateur Ray Klein’s empire.

And now, having survived earthquakes, floods, identify crisis, economic downturns, neighborhood blight and even disco, the building sits with an uncertain future.

A memento of better days – 1929

Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection

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Santa Barbara Missions You’ve Never Seen

Santa Barbara Missions You’ve Never Seen
By Neal Graffy XNGH
December 6, 2009

Last Friday, Mission Santa Barbara celebrated its 223rd birthday. Now, I grew up thinking, as I believe most residents also do, that the Mission we see before us is therefore 223 years old. But, it ain’t so. The Mission has gone through a lot of changes over the past 2.2 centuries.

The founding ceremony of December 4, 1786 was a very simple one, primarily because the governor, Pedro Fages, had forbidden any structures to be built or formal rites held until he arrived. Father Fermín Lasuén, who had succeeded Fr. Serra as president of the Missions, had been in Santa Barbara since October waiting for Fages, and now here it was, December 4th, the Feast of Saint Barbara, the Holy Patroness for the new mission, and there was no governor.

“Tornillo el gobernador” Lasuén may have thought. Orders or no orders, he was not about to waste this date. Along with Frs. Antonio Paterna and Cristóbal Orámas, the two missionaries assigned to the new mission, Lasuén went to the mission site, raised a cross, blessed the earth, and recited several prayers.

The governor finally arrived on the 14th, and two days later, the first official Mass was said in a brush enclosure built for the occasion. In spite of the governor’s formal recognition of the 16th, December 4 — Saint Barbara’s Day — remains the mission’s official, recognized birthday. (Note that all three padres grew up to have streets named after them, the governor did not.)

Very crude structures made of logs were soon built for the fledgling mission’s needs, including a church, where the first baptism was held in May, 1787.

Change was constantly in motion, and the church was replaced in 1794 by a more substantial structure of adobe with a tile roof. By 1797, the quadrangle encompassing what would later become “the sacred garden” was completed. The late artist, Russell A Ruiz presents the scene around 1800.

Between 1809 and 1811, the roof – at least over the front wing – was removed, the arched corridor familiar to us today was built (though it only had sixteen arches), and a stone parapet crowned the arches.

Massive earthquakes (estimated at 7 to 7.5 on the Richter scale) shook California in December 1812, destroying or damaging a number of the southern California Missions. The two padres at Santa Barbara, Frs. Luis Gil y Taboada and Marcos Amestoy, reported extensive damage to the church, and gained permission to build a new one.

Inspiration for the new church came from a book in the mission library, Los Diez Libros de Arquitectura de M. Vitruvio Polion (The Ten Books of Architecture by M. Vitruvio Polion). Originally written by Marcos Vitruvius Polion, an architect in the first century B.C., the padres’ copy was a Spanish edition of 1787. From a plate showing possible facades for temples, the padres chose style “B”, (top left). In place of the pagan gods adorning the pediment shown on another page, the mission fathers selected to place the statues of Faith, Hope and Charity. Showing their own creativity, they added Saint Barbara in a niche in the center

The completed Mission Santa Barbara was dedicated with a grand fiesta in September 1820. But it wasn’t quite the Mission we know and love today. It only had one tower, and a tile roof had been added over the portico. The new church covered two of the arches leaving fourteen showing. The adobe buildings to the right date to 1802, and were the homes of the tanner and majordomo.

In 1831, a second tower was added, but soon collapsed. It was rebuilt and a buttress was added for strength, which covered half of the fourteenth arch.

A portion of the covered patio was enclosed from 1854 to 1856 to provide rooms for the expanding Franciscan community. Two dormer windows provided daylight. By 1870, the second story was completed to the west end and wooden shingles replaced the tiles. The expanded second story now served as the “Franciscan College” a much-needed institution of higher learning for the young men of Santa Barbara. Class sizes varied from year to year, with as few as 30 students, and as many as 70 being reported. Tuition for the ten and a half month school year was around $200. The school closed in 1877.

Nearing its centennial, the Mission was in horrible condition. Large chunks of plaster had fallen off the front above the arches, revealing the design of the 1811 stone parapet beneath. As early as 1884, the community began raising money for a restoration.

In time for the centennial, new plaster and paint renewed the mission to reflect its status as “Queen of the Missions.” Still, work continued. The wood shingles and dormer windows were removed and replaced with tile in 1888. Many changes also took place around the mission with vegetation being cleared, new gardens planted, fences and vineyards added and removed, palm trees were planted along the front in 1902. In 1905, more changes were made to the mission, as a section was added to the west end, adding four more arches to the front corridor. This photo was taken in 1890.

The Santa Barbara earthquake of June 29, 1925 caused considerable damage to the church. The rebuilding was going to be costly, but the community and the nation rose to the occasion, for the mission was not seen as just a Catholic church, but as an important historic symbol of California. Across the country, school children contributed pennies; movie stars, philanthropists, chambers of commerce and town councils sent thousands of dollars. Newspaper editorials spoke of the many companies – especially the railroads – that had used the mission extensively in their advertising, and it was now time for them to pay back for what they had used for free. Funding secured, the mission was restored and finished in time for the 1927 Fiesta. It was formally consecrated on Saturday, December 3, 1927 though I find it odd that they didn’t wait one more day for Saint Barbara’s Feast Day.

But there was more to come. By 1950, it was determined that a serious problem had resulted from the earthquake restoration. The stonework and mortar were not getting along and were cracking and disintegrating due to “a reaction of the alkalies in the aggregates or in the cement or both.”

The entire front of the church was completely torn down. The demolition had its benefits for historical review, though. The fourteenth arch that had been hidden by the 1833 buttress was exposed, as were the 15th and 16th arches that had been covered up by the 1820 church. Also uncovered were doorways, stairways, and floors dating back to the 1794 church. This time, the church was rebuilt of steel-reinforced concrete, with a facing of Santa Maria limestone, four inches thick. The front was left unplastered to show the stonework, although the towers were plastered. On December 4, 1953, the new church was once again blessed and consecrated.

Now you may think we are done, but there is more. I had mentioned the towers had been plastered over and I know you’re thinking, “No it’s not. I can see the stones and mortar just like on the face of the church.” Well look again next time you pass by (though not driving of course) and you’ll see the pattern was carefully painted on by Steve Nagelmann, for the 1986 bicentennial. But Steve’s work was with precedent; it was his father, A. C. Nagelmann that had first painted the faux stone and mortar on the towers back in 1953!

The mission has been a continually evolving presence over the past 223 years, and we’ve only seen the changes to the most visible portion. Take a day off and be a tourist in your own town and visit the Queen of the Missions for the full story. Oh yeah, and Happy Birthday Mission Santa Barbara!

Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection except #s 1, 3, and 9 courtesy Mission Archive Library.

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The Chapala Street Wharf

The Chapala Street Wharf
by Neal Graffy XNGH
November 8, 2009

“Back in the day” there were basically two ways to get humans and cargo to Santa Barbara. You either tossed it overboard and let it float ashore – an act generally reserved for lumber not people – or it was loaded into small boats and rowed ashore. A popular story tells of the sailors stopping just where the waves were beginning to roll under the skiffs and asking the passengers for a tip. If insufficient gratuities were presented there was a good chance that the boat would “accidentally” turn sideways in the waves and you and your luggage would get drenched. As far as the sailors were concerned they were going to get wet anyway so it didn’t matter to them.

At the foot of what would become Chapala Street, the shoreline retreated forming a small cove and this was the preferred spot to land the boats. (Map by David Banks Rogers from his 1928 book Prehistoric Man of the Santa Barbara Coast).

Coincidentally, all of this is why Chapala Street is where it is and why it has that name. For years, I’d always heard two different explanations of its origin. One stated it was “named after a town in Mexico, from which some of the early emigrants came to this place.” Another account credited the name to the prison at Chapala where Governor Manuel Micheltorena “recruited” some of the 300 convict troops he brought to California in 1843. However, as a result of the research for my street names book, I dismissed both. A review of the Spanish and Mexican census records of early Santa Barbara did not reveal any settlers from Chapala, and as for Gov. Micheltorena’s convict troops, they were so despised by the populace it seemed unlikely they would honor them with a street.

Chapala certainly wasn’t in any Spanish dictionaries (1850 editions or current) and as it turned out there was a good reason for it. It is a New World word. That revelation was given to me by a young man from Central America who said the word means “to splash” or “to paddle about”. Further investigation added the possibility of “to wade” to the list.

Now it all made sense. Naming the street “Chapala” had everything to do with its starting point at the beach where, as it was the usual landing place, “wading”, “splashing” and “paddling about” was all part of Barbareño daily life.

A plan to end all of that splashing and paddling came about in 1865 when the Santa Barbara Wharf Company was organized by Dr. Samuel B. Brinkerhoff, Dr. James Barron Shaw, Captain Martin M. Kimberly, and former otter hunters Isaac Sparks and Lewis T. Burton with the bright idea of building a wharf for the safe transition of passengers and freight. It took a couple of years to get enough investors but finally, in 1868 Santa Barbara’s first wharf opened at the foot of Chapala Street.

It almost served the intended purpose. Extending only 500 feet from shore – a little more than a city block – it was too shallow for the coastal steamers to tie up. Instead, passengers and goods were rowed to the wharf where a ladder provided access to the deck. If it was calm it wasn’t too bad, but if the sea were even a little choppy it was quite a challenge. But rough seas or not, certainly no self-respecting woman would climb a ladder with a sailor peering up her skirt!

Newcomer John Peck Stearns, who owned a lumber yard, offered to invest in the wharf and extend it further out to sea but was turned down. So, a block away at the foot of State Street he built a 1600 foot wharf, which opened in September, 1872 and literally opened the door to Santa Barbara leaving the “chapala” as a leisurely activity for children and tourists.

The Chapala Wharf slowly began to rot away and was finally destroyed by a violent storm on January 14, 1878. Heavy seas and high winds were already taking their toll, when the wreckage of one or more ships, pulled from their moorings, slammed into the wharf. In turn, the combined wreckage floated over to Stearns Wharf causing considerable damage there too. (Photo about 1877)

The picture above, c1928 and prior to the building of the breakwater still shows the remnant of the “cove” indentation at the foot of Chapala Street. Over 400′ of sand now separates the boulevard from the ocean. The little bend on West Cabrillo is all that is left to remind us of what was once there. In the distance, yet another short lived pier extends out into the ocean and beyond that we see Castle Rock, located at just about where the twin pillars mark the entrance to the breakwater today. We’ll be visiting both of those long-gone landmarks in the future.

Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection
Except 1928 aerial photo courtesy Santa Barbara Historical Museum

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Just an Old Photo…

Just an Old Photo…
By Neal Graffy XNGH
November 1, 2009

It was just an old photograph of a Santa Barbara house and I probably could have left it at that. But for me, there’s a thousand words behind each photograph – you just have to find them…

The photo had no dates or names but it has a lot to say. First, it wasn’t just a snapshot. The studio logo on the reverse told us the camera was in the hands of N. H. Reed, a professional Santa Barbara photographer. The house is large with a good size front yard and close inspection reveals a carriage entrance and possible barn in the rear. But with that much room, where are the people? There’s no one on the upper or lower porches, sitting in the windows or gathered in the yard. Usually we’ve got the family, and even neighbors and friends all getting into the act. All we have are two women; one standing by her carriage and the other in the yard with her parasol over her shoulder. For these two women it was an important moment frozen in time

Location, location, location. Where was the house? I knew I’d seen that wonderfully angled siding along the front windows but just couldn’t place it. So we start with what we know – a) it’s on a corner, b) it’s faint, but between the homes is the unmistakable profile of the Santa Ynez mountains, therefore it must be on a northeast corner, c) streetcar tracks run past the front of the house and up the street alongside. The tracks narrow it down to seven possible corners. Now we turn to what is missing to give two possible locations and the date range. Santa Barbara’s trolleys were mule powered from 1875 to 1897 and electric beginning in 1896. The absence of power poles tells us we’re in mule days and that route, different than the electric trolley route, would lead us past Victoria and de la Vina and Micheltorena and Bath.

Of course we all know what’s on those two corners and there certainly isn’t a big Victorian on either of them. But I knew that house. Had it had been moved? Not wanting to get out of my chair yet, I engaged Google Earth and cruised the neighborhoods. Of course, there it was, just where it had always been, at the corner of Victoria and de la Vina. What was missing was the front yard.

Changes, changes, changes. The home’s original address of 134 West Victoria became 138 around 1910 and by that time it was a boarding house with “furnished rooms.” In the 1920s owner Allen D. Smith sub-divided the 57′ x 207′ lot, keeping the back yard which became 1308 and 1310 de la Vina. The new owner for the house, Charles A Judd, built the 4-unit La Paz Apartments in the front yard which became 136 W. Victoria. The old Victorian, the “La Paz Annex,” was readdressed to 1304 de la Vina and had nine apartments. At some point, an “internal sub-division” of the corner structure doubled the apartments from four to eight. In the mid-1980s “La Paz” was renamed “De La Victoria Apartments.”

Getting back to the photo, who were these women? Since N. H. Reed came here in October, 1887 and the mule cars ran until 1897 we now have a 10 year range for the dates. Still not wanting to get out of my chair, I turned to on-line census records to help. With most of the 1890 census destroyed in a fire, the 1900 census would be the starting point. Santa Barbara was divided into seven wards back then so I began with each ward, viewed a few pages to see the area being covered and moved on until I hit Ward 6. On the 14th of 20 pages, 134 West Victoria came to light.

The residents were two sisters, Abby M and Frances A Holder. They were white, female, and their martial status revealed they weren’t divorced or widowed, but single – the proverbial “spinster sisters.” Their birthdates and ages are shown though these revelations can’t always be trusted. I’ve seen females actually get younger from census to census – ahhh those were the days! Not included in the clip above, the census also states the sisters and parents were all born in Massachusetts.

We can also see they had a servant, Julia Carter. This wasn’t too unusual. Lots of homes, even middle income homes, had a servant or two around. Though not yet proven I suspect the decline in servants (often younger females) is in direct proportion to a rise in divorce lawyers.

Names in hand, a check of the 1888, 1893 and 1895 City Directories showed the Holder sisters living at 134 West Victoria. The latter directory also listed Abby as a “private school teacher.” From this we can be fairly confident the two women in the photo are indeed Abby and Fanny. I could have just left it there, but I was only up to 700 words.

Census records and city directories for Lynn and Boston indicated Abby was a teacher, Frances at times a saleswoman, and both living with their mother until her death in 1883. Two years later the sisters came to Santa Barbara.

They left their Victoria Street home around 1908 and moved to Junipero Plaza. 305 was the given address but sometimes 305 East Padre was used. As the property in question once stretched along Garden to both streets, it’s possible they built the house still standing at the south-east corner of Junipero Plaza and Garden, but that’s another story.

I found no burial records for them so I finally got out of my chair and got their death dates – November 10, 1910 for Abby and February 3, 1923 for Frances – from the Santa Barbara Historical Museum Library.

One hundred and twenty-one years after it was taken, and in exactly 1,000 words, Abby and Fanny Holder’s simple photo has told us a delightful story of Santa Barbara history.

Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection

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Oliver Fountain

Oliver Fountain
By Neal Graffy XNGH
October 25, 2009

This week we return again to the intersection of Mountain Drive, Mission Canyon Road and technically, Los Olivos, to visit a large stack of sandstone boulders. These are usually observed as a blur of yellowish red as our in-a-hurry society flies by or perhaps missed altogether due to DWS (Dirty Windshield Syndrome). They sort of look as though they are part of the 1891 Mission Creek Bridge stonework, but they were a later addition and how they got here is a story that begins with “Once upon a time, many years ago, in a place halfway around the world from here.”

The place in question is the Azores Islands, about 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, 2,200 miles from the east coast of the United States and 4,700 miles from Santa Barbara. Members of the Dabney family, originally from Massachusetts, had been here since the early 1800s when John Bass Dabney was appointed the American Consul by President Thomas Jefferson. The family prospered through shipping and trading and upon John’s death, his son Charles become the Consul and following his death, his son Samuel was Consul.

George Stuart Johannot Oliver was brought into the family when he married Frances Alsop Dabney in 1867. Born in Boston in 1831, the Harvard educated 6’4″ Oliver was intellectually and physically a stand out in any crowd. Coincidentally and somewhat confusing (though thrilling to genealogists), George’s classmate at Harvard was Francis Oliver Dabney, the brother of Frances. The new Mrs. Oliver’s middle name, Alsop was her mother’s middle name and also the maiden name of George’s father’s first wife (George’s mother was the second wife). So I suspect the Olivers and Dabneys may have been related though in George’s case not by blood.

George worked in the Dabney family shipping and trading business. Keeping his in-laws company in political matters, tradition states he was served as American vice-Consul though records indicate he was “Consul for the German Empire” for the Azores.

Oliver retired around 1880, and being in somewhat poor health he sought a more suitable climate for his convalescence. He found it in Santa Barbara, a quiet, small town of 3,400 souls that was gaining a reputation as a health resort.

View of the Oliver’s property from Mountain Drive

The Oliver’s bought nine acres in Mission Canyon strewn with sandstone boulders and dotted with oak trees. They established a nice home with lovely gardens and pathways which soon became a popular stopping place for friends, family and even tourists. The Olivers were one of the five Mission Canyon residents that paid for the Mission Canon Bridge as mentioned in last weeks story.

George Oliver died in 1904 and six years after his death, his widow hired stone mason George Robson to build a memorial to her husband. Robson moved three large boulders from the Oliver property to the entrance to Mission Canyon.

One boulder was hallowed out to serve as a horse trough – although it made a great pollywog nursery when I was a kid.

To the left another boulder had a small bowl carved into it with a water spigot (long gone) in the center for two-legged critters and the overflow filled the bowl for the birds and other furry woodland creatures.

The third boulder was behind the horse trough and in the center of the rock face Mrs. Oliver placed this plaque: “In Memory of George Stuart Johannot Oliver – who loved this Canyon – 1910.”

Francis Dabney Oliver passed away in 1926 at the ripe old age of 92. Following her death a group of friends bought her property for $27,000 with the intention of donating it to the county as park. At the time, the papers referred to it as “Oliver Park,” but it ended up with the name that the Olivers gave the property back in 1882 when they bought it – “Rocky Nook.”

Strolling through Rocky Nook Park today you will find a boulder with a plaque “Rocky Nook given to the County by Friends of Frances Dabney Oliver who lived here from 1882 to 1927.” Nearly 70 years later, another plaque was installed to honor the formerly nameless “friends” – former County Supervisor Sam and Carol Stanwood.

Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection

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