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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